The clock is ticking for the Ashcroft Opera House and for the Winding River Arts and Performance Society (WRAPS) who want to breathe some new life into it.
WRAPS president John Kidder and members of the society have been busy in the past few weeks, making their pitch to local governments like the Village of Ashcroft and the Gold Trail board of education.
Kidder has an option to purchase the Opera House, which sits on the corner of Brink and 4th St., that expires June 30, and he’s trying to raise $600-$700,000.
He’s hoping the Village can come up with $30,000 over two years.
“Financial support from council is critical when you’re looking for other funding,” Kidder told Council members at a Apr. 23 meeting. “We need provincial and federal money, and funding from a local authority tells them that people really want this to happen.”
He said they’d like to be operating by this Fall, starting small with musical offerings and a coffee shop.
Mayor Andy Anderson said he hoped the Council could help: “We will look at it in every way we can,” he said, adding that the use of public funds was governed by strict rules.
“By definition, this is a private enterprise because the Village doesn’t own it,” said Administrator Michelle Allen.
Kidder said the funding would go to WRAPS, which is a non-profit volunteer society. It would be WRAPS, he said, who would be taking out a 10 year lease on the building with the view to owning it by the end of that time.
During that 10 years, they would be offering not only concerts, but marketing the venue for festivals, workshops, a recording studio, possibly a movie theatre, and just a meeting place to bring in revenue.
“It has to be multi-purpose,” he told School District 74’s Education Committee on May 1. “A modern multi-purpose arts and cultural facility.”
WRAPS has been very good about making sure that every performance they offer makes a little bit of money, or at least breaks even, he said.
Kidder expects 46 per cent of their $610,000 preliminary budget will come from government sources. The rest will come from memberships, sponsors and donations.
They are thinking that forming a co-operative is the best way to keep the Opera House community-owned as well as offer shares in return for donations from the members.
Kidder asked the trustees to picture a future five years down the road where Ashcroft has a thriving arts and culture community with the Opera House behind it all.
“I think we can turn our decline around.”
He reminded trustees that the Opera House drew people to settle in Ashcroft between 2005-2008 while it was owned and operated by Martin Comtois. That migration has dropped off since the building closed in November 2008, but it could happen again once the Opera House is in operation.
“This is not a business,” he said. “It is a community-owned not-for-profit venture,” Kidder said. “The goal is to improve the well-being of the community.”
The real victory, he said, would be to have people walking around Ashcroft, saying “That’s my Opera House.”
Young people are already big contributors to the area’s arts and culture, he said, and WRAPS provides many opportunities for students through plays, workshops, musical performances and other activities.
“We’ve always envisioned having young people involved in this,” he said.
“Your connection with our curricula is easy to see,” agreed Superintendent Teresa Downs.
Trustee Christopher Roden, chair of the Education Committee, asked Downs to speak with Secretary Treasurer Lynda Minnabarriet to see how the school district could help them.
The Opera House was built in 1889 and has been used as an opera house, a concert hall, a town hall, movie theatre and a new and used store. Martin Comtois restored it in 2008 as the Ashcroft Opera House and presented such acts as Valdy, The Rankins and Garnet Rogers before building code problems forced its closure in 2008