Skip to content

SCENE SETTER: Barrie Arts Alliance eager to see new performing arts centre move forward

'The performing arts centre will be an entertainment hub for everyone in Barrie,' says Chrissy Baker from Simcoe Contemporary Dancers

An often overlooked or underappreciated but vital part of any artistic presentation is the space in which it is presented. Both invisible and all-encompassing, the venue is a cast member that often goes without a bio… and certainly without a headshot.

But venues can hold as much weight as the names of the artists performing. London’s Royal Albert Hall, Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre, Arizona’s Red Rocks... The list goes on!

Choosing the right venue is as important as choosing the right play, piece of music or headlining performer, but what is to be done by artists living in a city without a designated space to create?

Barrie’s need for its own performing arts centre (PAC) has been well known by the city’s resident artists for years, but came into the public light in 2020. Now, two years later, headway is being made toward the creation of a PAC and would not have been
possible without the Barrie Arts Alliance (BAA).

I had the opportunity to talk with BAA members Scott Boyer (member of Skyliners Big Band and King Edward Choir) and Chrissy Baxter (executive director of Simcoe Contemporary Dancers) about the BAA and the need for a designated performing arts centre.

RV: What is the Barrie Arts Alliance and why was it formed?

CB: The BAA was formed to advocate for arts and culture in Barrie. The BAA is made up of 19 local arts and culture groups who work together to create positive change for the arts across the city.

I joined the BAA at its inception as the representative for Simcoe Contemporary Dancers and I have really enjoyed working more closely with other arts and culture leaders and feel positive about the work we have done so far.

RV: What work has been done by the BAA and the performing arts centre task force regarding the construction of the new performing arts centre?

SB: At the request of Barrie city council, the BAA provided three representatives to assist the performing arts task force in the development of the new performing arts centre for Barrie. Dozens of meetings were held, hundreds of hours were spent researching performing arts in Canada, as well as site visits to performing arts centres in four other communities similar to Barrie to learn from their experiences in building and operating their PACs.

We've learned some key things:

1. The primary money-maker for the performing arts centre will be the commercial groups and professional performing acts/entertainers that will use it.

2. Other cities have attendance numbers exceeding 100,000 per year. While BAA members alone draw 45,000 attendees to their performances, when you add in just some of the other arts groups and events already established in Barrie, this will bring the total over 60,000 audience members, not including the crowds for professional acts and other events. Compared to other municipalities we are already at a better starting point for a new performing arts centre in terms of possible users and attendees.

3. So if you do the math, the PAC should be very busy.

RV: Why is a performing arts centre important for a city the size of Barrie?

SB: Just like in other cities, the PAC will be a significant economic driver in the region especially for downtown Barrie. It will be an anchor site that will help define Barrie as a diverse, healthy, progressive and attractive city to live in. Every other city Barrie's size, even smaller, have PACs as well as other city-owned facilities that support the performing arts.

All sorts of activities will take place here. Its use is only limited by our imagination!

CB: The performing arts centre will be an entertainment hub for everyone in Barrie. It is a really exciting prospect and will create many new activities and events for downtown Barrie.

RV: What does the decision by Barrie city council actually mean for the PAC?

CB: The decision by the council regarding the performing arts centre is an exciting first step. This will allow city staff to hire a consultant to review the recommendations of the task force, and then to hire an architect to develop a concept plan and cost estimate.

RV: Why is supporting arts and culture important?

SB: Not only being a significant economic driver, the arts is a key outlet for the health and well-being of a community's citizens. The arts are a crucial part of the recreation and leisure spectrum. Live entertainment is an enriching pastime.

The vast majority of Canadians enjoy the benefits  government-sponsored surveys show that on a regular basis 86 per cent of Canadians attend arts events and 50 per cent of Canadians participate in the making of arts and culture.

Communities are wise to support this demand.

RV: What is next for the Barrie Arts Alliance?

SB: The BAA has collected an immense amount of data about the arts activities in Barrie  more than any other study so far. We hope the City of Barrie and the future consultant contacts us to tap into the fullness of this information to design a suitable

CB: The BAA will continue to meet regularly and work together to raise the profile of arts and culture in Barrie.

For more information about the Barrie Arts Alliance, email [email protected].

The Barrie Arts Alliance consists of individuals representing the following groups: Barrie Concert Band, Barrie Opera Society, Barrie Film Festival, Baytowne Big Band, Bravado Show Choir, Burro’d Theatre, Central Ontario Music Council, Kempenfelt Community Players, King Edward Choir, Huronia Symphony Orchestra, Lyrica Chamber Choir, MacLaren Art Centre, Moving Art, Ontario Musicians Co-Operative, Simcoe Contemporary Dancers, Skyliners Big Band, Skyliners Youth Big Band, Talk Is Free
Theatre, and Theatre by the Bay.