By Chad Ingram
Just what to do about the Minden Hills Cultural Centre – how to make it more economically viable and how to bring more people through its doors, which are of course linked – is a puzzle that’s been pondered by a succession of Minden Hills councils.
They’ve tried various things. There have been changes in the staff contingent over the years, with fluctuating numbers of full-time and part-time staff. There have been changes in the way admission works, from donations to a formalized fee structure and, recently, back to donations.
The one-time R.D. Lawrence Place, dedicated to the literary and conservationist work of its namesake, was rebranded as Nature’s Place, a more generalized interpretive centre, by the previous council.
None of these changes has seemed to have made a significant difference.
Walk-in traffic at the facility – which includes Nature’s Place, the Minden Hills Museum and the Agnes Jamieson Gallery – has flatlined for years.
It became clear late last month that the cultural centre’s budget would be laid on the chopping block as Minden Hills council attempts to keep the tax increase for 2016 below 10 per cent.
Myriad financial pressures, including, predominantly, the second year of five years of outrageous and unacceptable OPP billing increases, are pinching the township in a severe way.
Just the increase in the township’s policing bill – an increase of $391,000 this year, as the annual bill climbs to $2 million at the end of the phase-in – is greater than the first-round draft budget for the cultural centre, which was just below $340,000.
Reeve Brent Devolin said he can no longer justify the centre’s expense and low attendance to taxpayers and council instructed the township’s community services director to slash $50,000 from its budget for 2016. Devolin said he’d like to see the same next year, equating to a $100,000 cut over two years.
Some community members have bristled, remarking that of course the arts are first on the block as Devolin’s not-so-secret conservatism comes to bear.
Some are supportive, saying the centre’s budget is too high for the number of people it attracts. There are even a few extremists who’d like to see the whole thing closed, the money used elsewhere.
There is no easy answer or clear solution when it comes to the cultural centre, but continued low traffic volumes at the facility indicate that perhaps its traditional programming needs an overhaul.
In the exposure department, social media is an easy and free way to promote the centre and while it has both a Facebook page and Twitter account, they need to be used on a regular basis to be effective.
The cultural centre Twitter account has just 88 followers and has been inactive since the new fall hours were posted on Sept. 3 of last year.
Audience engagement is a key part of social media success and social media experts will tell you that if you want to build an attentive Twitter audience, you should Tweet four to six times a day.
The cultural centre could do “did you know?” type posts with interesting bits of Minden history. It could ask people to identify mysterious, antique farming implements. It could regularly post pictures of the pieces on display at the art gallery.
As council moves to reduce the centre’s funding, a social media marketing plan would be a relatively easy and cost-effective way to promote the centre’s programming and exhibits.