City council voted Monday night to fund detailed design work on the $240-million Arts Commons expansion project.
On the heels of the federal government pledging to contribute $80 million to Arts Commons, city council has elected to release $22.5 million so that detailed design work can begin on the first phase of the project which includes a new 1,200-seat theatre facility, two smaller theatres and rehearsal space.
The Arts Commons transformation project was one of four major capital projects approved conditionally by city council last March, including the BMO Centre expansion, the new arena and field house.
“This project actually has had far, far more work done for many years than any of the other three projects, in fact all of them combined,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday night following council’s vote. “Frankly, they’ve been at it for so long it’s ready to go. It’s time to move forward.”
The cash will come from a pool of capital funds that was previously set aside for the project. Approximately $2.5 million has already been spent on planning.
An expansion of Arts Commons has been in the works for nearly a decade. Proponents say a critical shortage of performance space has meant that the downtown facility, home to the Jack Singer Concert Hall and Max Bell Theatre, has been forced to turn down some 600 events annually.
The project is also viewed as a key pillar in the city’s plans to revitalize the downtown and in developing a cultural and entertainment district.
The federal pledge of support is contingent upon the province and city council agreeing to contribute the remaining $135 million for the expansion — funds which could potentially come from a previously approved extension of the community revitalization levy.
While several council members questioned the project’s finances behind closed doors Monday evening, elected officials emerged from the closed meeting largely united in their support.
Councillors Sean Chu and Jeromy Farkas voted against proceeding with the project.
Chu said he believes there are more important priorities for the city’s capital dollars.
“If the economy gets better and the city’s flooded with money, I’ve got no problem with it,” said Chu. “But right now, it’s not the right time to do it.”
Fear may be motivating but Wesley Colford is sure he could do just as good a job running a theatre without it.
The artistic director of the Highland Arts Theatre says he feels like he’s living in a paradox because while the theatre may appear to be doing well, there are times when going under seems like a distinct possibility.
“There’s so much to be excited about but there is also a constant fear that it will all go away any month based on a bad show with low ticket sales,” says Colford. “It’s definitely a scary place to be existing. We had gotten a little bit closer to the ledge this year than we expected.”
Part of the problems began last winter when ticket sales to winter productions were lower than expected. Then add the cost of adding a much-needed air conditioning system and the higher-than-expected summer ticket sales suddenly don’t have quite the same impact.
“Even though we had more people it was not more lucrative,” says Colford. “So things like that added up. There were a couple of times when we were really quite scared and again funding continues to be a challenge when we really thought, based on some small success last year, that some of those relationships would develop this year and if they did it was very marginally. We are still holding out on meaningful support from the municipality which doesn’t seem to be coming. There’s operational funding that we desperately need from the province that still doesn’t seem to be available to us. It’s been hard. We know there are so many organizations in need of help but it’s a bit of a conundrum where we’re having so many people through the door, having such success but it is so expensive.”
Despite the highs and lows, Colford remains optimistic that everything is beginning to even out and he’s hopeful the theatre will have strong fall, Christmas and winter seasons.
“I always look for something that’s going to offer something new for everyone while balancing of course some tried and true favourites. I think this season really is the perfect balance of that. We’re bringing back some really terrific artists, be it directors like Ron Jenkins who has become a bit of a staple or some familiar playwrights who have had great hits in the past but also a lot of new things that I think people are going to be really delighted by with every month offering something new and unique, ranging from a domestic Canadian drama to 1960s musical based on a Shakespearean comedy.”
To encourage more people to attend shows, the theatre is offering a series of theatre packages that they hope will encourage gift-giving. The upcoming shows include “The Drawer Boy,” “Morro & Jasp: Save The Date,” “As You Like It,” “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About The Death of Walt Disney and “The Clockmaker.” You can also add the June production of “Tribute To The Rotary Show” for an additional $25 to your package.
“With the early bird package (five shows), prices range from $75 to $89 with tax — this year we are bringing back the holiday gift package,” says Colford. “We want to encourage people to invite their friends and be able to give tickets as gifts. So if you get two of our regular packages, you can get two additional packages to give to friends and they’re only $50 each, which is really a remarkable saving. That goes until December 24.”
In addition to six days of performances for each play/musical, there will be an addition of a Sunday matinee for every performance.
Concert-wise the theatre will host Rawlins Cross (Nov. 30), A Gunning & Cormier Christmas (Dec. 7); Port Cities (Dec. 27), Tony Lee XXX Hypnotist (Jan. 24), another Confidential Musical Theatre project (Jan. 25), the “Snowed In” comedy show (April 23), “Lunch at Allen’s (April 28),” “The McCartney Years” (May 3) and “Abba Revisited (May 27 and 28).” There will also be a series of Christmas fare, “Sing-A-Long Sound of Music,” Dec. 22; a screening of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” on Dec. 23 and “A Very Merry Highland Arts Theatre Christmas Eve Sing-along Service”, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
“On some level fear is a good motivator but there are only so many hours in the day so at a certain point we’re going to run out of extra programs to add but we’ll keep doing what we can.”
Catharsis is the medium Diana Di Giacopo paints in. Behind her fastidious brushwork, exploding with colour and form, lies a story, steeped in emotional fervor. Those who dare to let her canvases speak to them, will soon hear the stories and convictions of their own lives re-emerging.
“I’m a very simple person,” says artist, Diana Di Giacopo. “I appreciate the little things and sometimes in this world people will become maybe materialistic or really career driven and they forget about these tiny little moments in life.”
The importance of la familia is embedded throughout her work. Her father, preparing home-made sausages, swaths of silk tapestries made by ancestors, a family Vespa, marbled steak, marinating oranges, and jars of preserves.
Best known for her realism, Di Giacopo works primarily in acrylics, but also dabbles in oils, graphite on paper and wood and concrete cast and clay sculpture. Painting since she was a child, she went on to graduate from the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at York University with honours in 1998. Her first exhibition was at The Well in Alliston. The Mayor attended.
In her piece, The Work of my Father’s Hands, Diana has captured one of the last visits her ill father made to her house.
The laborious process of making sausage together cemented their rich Italian heritage, combining their love of food, resilience, and proficiency into a family tradition. Di Giacopo spent her youth working at the family restaurant, Don Valentino Ristorante, in Brampton, and it is the source of inspiration for many of her unusual still life paintings.
From the Gentlemen’s Pile, is a darker story. The men’s shoes are deftly detailed, illuminating a life’s journey and at the same time pulling you into the depths of your own experience. You can’t help but wonder who these shoes belonged to, as the gravitas of your own father’s brogues sitting in the front closet rushes back. That moment, as a child, when you slipped your tiny feet into them, felt their imposing presence and suddenly understood your place in the family.
“A shoe is a very powerful symbol,” says Di Giacopo, who has now painted a whole series of women’s and men’s shoes. “It has your scent and carries your experiences in the day. You can feel the soul, the personality. Who they belong too.”
The black leather uppers in the painting are buffed to a spit-polish. These are shoes that were well cared for, yet well-worn. But you know there is a deeper story there. And as it happens, it is a sinister one, buried in an unspeakable history. The title of the piece is the giveaway. It refers to the piles of shoes belonging to the casualties from the Nazi death camps. The women’s pile. The men’s pile.
Nazis ordered their victims to remove their shoes before parading them into the gas chambers and Di Giacopo encountered these images while researching local WWII heroes for South Simcoe’s 150 Canada Day Anniversary exhibition. “The shoe pile was so evocative,” she recalls. “Your skin will crawl. It’s a travesty to see those piles of shoes.” The images compelled her to begin her shoe series, again plumbing the horrors and ennui of life.
On Sunday evening, The White House announced that U.S. President Donald Trump will award the National Medal of Arts to American actor Jon Voight on Nov. 21.
The Deliverance star, along with three other recipients, will be honoured this Thursday for their contributions to the arts.
Among those that the Republican leader will acknowledge for the accolade are country icon Alison Krauss, “champion of the arts” Sharon Percy Rockefeller, and the Musicians of the United States Military.
Unlike the other award winners, however, Voight, 80, has proved himself to be one of Trump’s loudest and proudest supporters on multiple occasions in the past.
Voight, 80, posted a video to Twitter sharing his support of Trump. The two-minute, 14-second rant quickly went viral on the social media platform and garnered the star an abundance of mixed responses — some supporting his thoughts and Trump’s actions, others protesting them.
This Thursday, Trump will also honour four recipients and organizations with a National Humanities Medal, including Washington, D.C.-based chef, Patrick J. O’Connell and 114-time New York Times bestselling author, James Patterson.