Design ideas take centre stage at 2nd arts and culture facility stakeholders session hosted by town of Yarmouth

Published on July 12, 2017

Stakeholders session held July 11 to discuss arts and culture facility in the town of Yarmouth.

©Tina Comeau

YARMOUTH, N.S. – A second stakeholders session was held in Yarmouth where members of the local arts community were again invited by the town to give input on the design of a new arts and culture facility.

A final design is yet to come. For now, architect Brian MacKay Lyons, hired by the town, said it is important to give people the chance to be involved in a participatory design process.

The town of Yarmouth has said it is moving forward with the planning process for an arts and culture facility in the downtown. The Collins Street parking lot has been identified as a preferred location.

Stakeholders session held July 11 to discuss arts and culture facility in the town of Yarmouth.
Tina Comeau

The July 11 stakeholders session started out with MacKay Lyons reviewing design ideas reached during an April stakeholders session – a session that Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood described as an “off the chart success.”

MacKay Lyons said he and his team were impressed with the ideas and suggestions that people brought forward.

“We were blown away by the variety of ideas and the intensity you put it into it,” he said Tuesday evening, saying it caused him and his team to second-think the facility design. “We had an idea of what we thought was the right answer, but it’s not anymore,” he said.

MacKay Lyons and his team will be doing more facility renderings and designs following this second session.

Architect Brian MacKay Lyons raises some points during a July 11 stakeholders session where input and ideas were sought on an arts and culture facility.

© Tina Comeau

Stakeholders session held July 11 to discuss arts and culture facility in the town of Yarmouth.
Tina Comeau

Attendance at the stakeholders session was by invitation from the town and was aimed at representing a broad cross section of the local arts and culture community, including theatre, craft, music, dance, visual arts, fine arts and more.

Members of Th’YARC’s board were invited and two members were present. President Mitch Bonnar confirmed he was invited, although he did not attend.

Others on social media – including people involved with Th’YARC – expressed that they felt snubbed and excluded because they were not invited.

A year ago Th’YARC initiated the process of trying to get a new facility on track after an attempt several years earlier fell by the wayside following a dispute with the town over location.

The subject of an arts and culture facility has been divisive, with people split on where it should be – a downtown location or Parade Street – and also about who should run and operate it. There was no discussion about governance at the session.

Stakeholders session held July 11 to discuss arts and culture facility in the town of Yarmouth.
Tina Comeau

The attendees were divided into groups and challenged to look further at a  facility design. There were some differences, but also many commonalities in ideas put forward. The suggested designs all included a large theatre and a smaller performance space. There was some debate over whether the large theatre should be a 400 or 500-seat venue, but there was agreement that a 150-seat facility would be appropriate for the smaller space.

Many designs incorporated on site green space with talk about open-air performances linked to the venue.

Attendees said it was important that a facility be inclusive to all types of arts.

Stakeholders session held July 11 to discuss arts and culture facility in the town of Yarmouth.
Tina Comeau

“You’ve got to do a little of everything,” said attendee Ann Jones. “You have to get the point across that this isn’t just a theatre we’re building. We’re building a visual arts space. A performing arts space. Arts studios, etc.”

One suggested design included a non-traditional space for performances.

“Where else are we going to go in the winter? We’ve got nowhere to go other than into dark, black buildings that we have to light with electricity we can’t afford,” said Andre Haines, suggesting a glass enclosed naturally lit space during the day would provide other alternatives.

Aside from being adjacent to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Western Branch, the designs made use of the area where the Vanguard newspaper building currently stands. That building has been for sale for years. People envisioned having different types of galleries and studios lining the street here, with second story residential options.

The issue of displaced parking was discussed, given that Collins Street is a busy parking lot. One thing being proposed is underground parking.

“We haven’t heard a better scheme yet, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one,” said MacKay Lyons, but he said the topography of the site would allow for a sufficient amount of underground parking.

The town says the Collins Street parking lot presents “unique and superior” possibilities given its proximity to the adjacent art gallery.

© Tina Comeau

“That’s what we’ve got so far until we hear a better idea,” he said about incorporating parking if an arts and culture facility is built here. “You’re either going to do surface parking, which is good to a point, and then there’s underground parking which is a lot more expensive but gives you more parking. The other way is to make parking buildings, but with a parking structure it uses up so much space for circulation that you don’t have a place for a parking structure here.”

It was suggested during the session people are opposed to the site because they don’t want to walk further distances to get to where they’re going. It was also stated by some in attendance that there is ample parking in the downtown available. There was no discussion of the time limits on Main Street and some side streets that exist, or that employees of businesses have been dissuaded over the years to park on Main Street to ensure downtown users and customers get those spaces instead.

Attendees noted it’s not a bad thing to encourage people to do more walking, as it is a healthy option. Haines also said people have shown they will walk if they need to.

“They walked to Ribfest. They managed to park way up and they managed to walk all the way down the hill to Ribfest and they managed to walk all the way back up the hill again,” he said.

Another issue discussed at the session was whether a facility ought to be built in phases or you go for it all at once. The majority preferred the latter option.