Aiming for a new performing arts centre
By Sue Tiffin
In honour of a recent birthday, Daniel Manley hosted a fundraiser for the Haliburton Highlands Arts Centre Foundation on his social media page and quickly raised $1,000 toward the new organization, which aims to build a world-class performing arts centre in Haliburton County.
It’s not the only thing to happen quickly for the HHAC Foundation. Though Manley, who is chair, and fellow board members Wil Andrea and Brent Wootton have been talking with community members about an arts centre in Haliburton County for quite some time, once they sat down to get organized, their vision started to come together faster than they expected.
The HHACF website describes that vision as “a place for concerts, plays, recitals, opera, musicals, film festivals, workshops and masterclasses,” as well as “a rehearsing home for community groups, for our multiple choirs, theatre companies, wind ensembles, folk bands, opera studio and growing chamber orchestra.”
The group had planned to achieve charitable status for the Foundation by the end of the year.
“Like maybe later this year, a Christmas present would be approval,” said Manley. “But then in the middle of August, we’d gotten a really plainclothes letter in the mail, I opened it up and it said that on Aug. 1 we’d been approved. And I had to read it a few times because I just didn’t, I thought, no, it’s not, it’s not this easy. We would have gone through a couple of cycles of ‘fix your application, add this, change this, update this, clarify this,’ and here we were. It shocked us all.”
The charitable status allows the foundation to offer donors a tax benefit, and allows the organization more access to foundation-to-foundation funding – which will speed the project along in first being able to fund feasibility studies and produce marketing materials, and then in raising the funds needed to design and build the complex.
“The foundation has got quite the journey ahead in fundraising the millions needed to build an arts centre in Haliburton County,” reads the HHACF website. “But it will also be about bringing our arts community together to design and build a facility that not only meets today’s needs but looks forward to the years of growth ahead for our region.”
Manley acknowledged the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion as a wonderful space, but said there are more features that groups, organizations, artists and performers are looking for, both for scheduling and rehearsing, and also for a “better night out experience.”
Currently there are challenges to using the space, including that it is unavailable on school board-designated weather event days, requiring groups to relocate practice – leaving stationary instruments behind – or cancel it completely on those days.
No alcohol is permitted on the property, but some organizations and groups would like patrons to be able to buy a glass of wine during intermission.
Additionally, Manley said there is interest in having a lounge, and a kitchen facility to offer a sort of concession stand.
After their group saw a package from a large international construction firm showcasing their ability to build art centres and music theatre centres, Manley said the project was further kickstarted.
“We just talked about the possibilities,” said Manley. “Let’s just run with it and see what happens.”
The scope of the project hasn’t been worked out yet, and Manley said other groups and organizations will be able to offer input on what their own needs are.
He suggested beyond a performance hall, it could include a black box studio performance hall for more intimate performances and recitals; rehearsal space separate from the performance halls for community ensembles, choirs, theatre companies; gallery space for visual and craft arts; affordable office space for arts and not-for-profit administration; back of house facilities including storage space and a set fly and a workshop for set construction and storage.
“We don’t want this to be a shallow place that’s only used at concert time or rehearsal time, we’d like the place to really be lived in and make it worthwhile,” he said. “If these kinds of groups can call this place home, then it just makes the place more alive and more viable.”
Now, instead of hoping simply for charitable status by the end of the year, Manley said by the end of the year, the foundation could be “drawing a line between the vision and requirements of the building as well as a dollar figure we’re looking for.”
In the meantime, alongside donations, excitement is building.
“The reception has been very good, and everybody’s very excited about it,” said Manley. “All of the response has been very positive so far.”
For more information about the Haliburton Highlands Arts Centre Foundation, to donate or get involved, visit hhartscentrefoundation.ca.