FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The city’s decision to assume control of the North Peace Cultural Centre from its governing body has left director Baptiste Marcere puzzled.
Marcere says the North Peace Cultural Society was in negotiations with the city to renew its service agreement, which has been in place since 2015.
“The city has, for the past few years, owned the building and given us 25 per cent of our income to manage the centre. We were renewing the agreement, and after three meetings, we received a letter on June 11th, dated May 25th, stating that after a closed council meeting, they decided to stop the agreement with us,” says Marcere.
The service agreement served as a guide for what services would be offered at the centre, under the mission of promoting the arts in Fort St. John, using the theatre, and renting space to the Fort St. John Public Library.
“I’ve been here for three years, and that’s always something I found was weird. The city would help us be in the building, but at the same time request that we rent the space to the library. That caused a conflict if something had to be changed, or the library would ask us [for help], we would have to ask the city, and it would take longer.”
Under the service agreement, the cultural society would meet four times a year to explain what was going on, what the attendance was, and what grants it might qualify for because the society only got 25 per cent of the revenue.
“In early 2021, they decided that wasn’t good enough anymore, and the library had trouble with paying rent so that we would stop the agreement. We didn’t really understand the problem because the library stopped paying rent in March, but we never stopped doing the maintenance, utility work, or security.”
In a statement Tuesday, the City of Fort St. John said it had informed the North Peace Cultural Society it would assume management of the centre on Monday.
“As we look at the cultural programming and events in other communities, we have not seen the same level of programming locally,” said the city’s statement.
Seeking a community-wide approach to arts and cultural services, the city mentioned it has “invested heavily” in additional cultural amenities, including the new Centennial Park stage and the Festival Plaza.
Marcere says there was always an open line of communication between the city and the society, and that the June 11th letter was where they found out the city was not happy with its programming.
“It’s not like we didn’t have a relationship with four meetings a year talking to the recreation department.”
At a meeting on Wednesday, the society heard that it’s just the centre’s management that will change, says Marcere.
“But they’re going to keep giving us the grant; how exactly does that work? We don’t know, because we asked the council to meet, and they refused. They said we have to go to delegation for city council.”
Marcere worries for the user groups who have been able to use the facility for free under the previous management.
“The youth community choir, the adult choir, Flying Colours, right now they’re using the centre for free to rehearse every week. And when they had a show, we had a little deal when it was maybe splitting the incomes 50/50. So are those groups going to have the same treatment? Are they going to be able to come for free, or are they going to have to pay the rent of the city?”
As far as Marcere knows, the transition will happen on September 9th.
“That’s the only information that we have; we don’t know anything else. We booked for two years of programming with local groups, and we were sorry to tell them, we don’t know. We have to present that to the city, tell them the dates that groups are booked and work around it. Is the city going to be ok with that, and keep that deal? We don’t know. Since early May, we have not had contact with the city.”
On top of everything, Marcere is concerned about his employees.
“As a director of the North Peace Cultural Society, I would love to have a little bit of communication and then we can at least plan something. My employees are devastated. So far, they’re all going to lose their job. We don’t know if the city would hire some of our employees.”
Marcere wonders whether the city will allow groups to use the centre for free, or if they are going to make those groups pay, which he says will completely change the dynamic.
The public library board weighed in with a Facebook post Wednesday saying it supports council’s decision.
“We realize that this was an extremely difficult decision, but we also recognize the need for change in the relationship. We hope to continue having a positive relationship with NPCS and, as always, we will continue to do our best to support our local arts community in general,” said the board in a statement.
The board said there are no plans for the library to take over any additional space at the centre.
“We were a paying tenant of the NPCS, and will now be a paying tenant of the City of FSJ,” read the post.
Previous Library Director Karlene Duncan was included in the statement saying she knows the city carefully considered the decision.
“I believe it is BECAUSE the City understands the value that arts and culture bring to our community, that it is assuming management.”
– featuring files from Tre Lopushinsky
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