By Pam Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A local arts advocacy group wants a written guarantee from municipal officials that the Chatham Cultural Centre and Kiwanis Theatre won’t be affected by plans to create a municipal hub at the current site of the Downtown Chatham Centre.
Dan White, Chair of the 12-member CK Arts and Culture Network, said his group still hasn’t received a response to a letter sent to council and administration July 2022, and a meeting with the company exploring the Imagine CK plan earlier this month didn’t give the group any reassurance.
Network chair Dan White said that while they’ve heard the CCC and Kiwanis Theatre won’t be affected by the municipality’s plan to create a municipal hub at the DCC that will potentially house the Chatham-Kent Public Library, the Chatham-Kent Museum and the Thames Art Gallery he and his fellow committee members now want to see a guarantee in writing.
As an active supporter of Theatre Kent, White said the loss of 60-year old Kiwanis Theatre as a performance space would severely impact the theatre community.
“If you lose the Kiwanis there’s no other space for live theatre in Chatham-Kent,” White said. “While there are other small venues, they are not appropriate and Theatre Kent would be struggling in places like church halls.”
Last year’s letter stressed the importance of maintaining the CCC as a municipally-owned cultural hub, not to be sold to a private owner.
“Our primary concern is the potential of the loss of Kiwanis Theatre if the CK Museum and Thames Art Gallery are moved as proposed,” the letter states. “The theatre should not only be maintained but enhanced to further community connection and engagement in the arts. We do not support the relocation of CK Museum and TAG. If indeed they are moved, we advise their former spaces be utilized for
White also noted that a long-planned renovation to the theatre to downsize the tight 700 seat space to a more comfortable 400 space theatre has also gone undone, despite the fact a surcharge has been added to each ticket sale to fund the project.
While acknowledging the cultural value of the 1,200-seat Capitol Theatre, White said the venue is too large and expensive for smaller community-based performances, adding the same thing applies to the 4,000-seat arena that’s being floated for the downtown as part of Imagine CK.
On March 2, the CKACN was invited to a meeting with officials from Nustadia Recreation, a Hamilton company contracted to explore the Imagine CK plan. However, White said he wasn’t reassured the concerns would be addressed as the company specializes in stadium-type builds and “aren’t familiar with the arts and culture community.”
James Snyder, past chair of the CKACN and a former long-time municipal employee, said the community “needs to raise their voices” to make sure council and administration are aware of the issues. Sending letters and comments to local officials is encouraged, he said. Information to that end can be accessed on the CKACN Facebook page.
He said the arts community is well represented by the CKACN, drawing from all areas of the municipality.
“It’s the most diverse, broad based, well-versed committee, I’ve ever sat on,” Snyder said noting the committee’s main concern with the current consultants is they “seem to have no background in culture.
“It’s a weak spot for them,” Snyder said. “The CCC and theatre is a cultural hub. That seems to be getting lost in translation.”
According to White the theatre issue pertains to all of Chatham-Kent, not just Chatham proper, as members of Theatre Kent and the arts network itself hail from all corners of the municipality.
In an interview March 22, Mayor Darrin Canniff categorically denied that the CCC or the Kiwanis Theatre would be lost.
“As we proceed on, the Kiwanis Theatre stays the Kiwanis Theatre,” Canniff stressed. “I want to be emphatic about that. It’s an amazing asset for the arts and culture community. I want to see it thrive.
“That’s the final word. Period.”
Preliminary plans for the $125-million Imagine CK project calls for the municipality to relocate civic operations to redesigned digs at the privately-owned DCC. The CKPL and CK Museum and TAG would also locate there, along with the construction of a large arena. The plan also includes the sale of the Chatham Civic Centre.