You might say Christmas came a few days early for Karl Simmons and his team.
Simmons, technical director of the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, says upgrades to the lighting and projection technology were long overdue.
On Thursday, he got his wish: the federal and provincial governments announced a combined $3.3 million for the arts and culture centres across the province.
There are six of them: one each in St. John’s, Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Stephenville, Corner Brook and Labrador City, with the capital city’s centre being the oldest and largest.
The St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and Simmons has been there for all but five of those years.
The funding will go toward upgrades and specialized equipment for the centres, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O’Regan and provincial Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation Minister Chris Mitchelmore said Thursday.
In St. John’s, that will include audio and lighting upgrades, renovations to the flooring and displays, an accessible entrance to the Barbara Barrett Theatre and the replacement of the main theatre seating — the same seating that was installed in the theatre when it opened in 1967, though it’s been reupholstered a number of times.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Simmons, who sat in on the announcement on the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre’s second floor concourse Thursday afternoon. “I think it really speaks to our service level for when we rent the theatre. We’re not renting it with old lighting equipment. We’ve got a brand-new sound system, finally, so we’re at the top of our game there. Now we need to upgrade our technology in the lighting systems and projections.”
Simmons will have a significant role to play in determining those upgrades.
“There’ll be quite a leap forward in lighting, mostly in the moving lights. All of that technology will be coming in. Better projections, brighter images,” he said. “The other centres are all getting new sound systems and upgrades in their control systems for lighting and so on.”
The federal government is contributing $1.9 million through the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Canadian Cultural Spaces Fund. The province is adding $1.4 million for the upgrades and renovations in the six facilities.
“It’s going to certainly invigorate and help provide a fresh start to how these treasured venues across our province operate,” Mitchelmore said. “I’ve heard where we’ve lost business because of the current technology that’s being used, so being able to have this state-of-the-art and industry-standard equipment will really help events continue to sell here.”
For Terri Andrews, whose Tada! Events has produced large-scale shows such as “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Rock of Ages” and “Our Divas Do Christmas,” and next spring will present the musical “Rent” at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, the funding announcement will mean a direct impact on her budgets.
“With the kind of shows and the productions I do, I have to bring in a lot of equipment,” Andrews said. “We started working with projections and moving lights years ago, but it didn’t exist here, so in terms of budgeting to do a certain type of production … if you’re not willing or able to put the extra thousands and thousands of dollars in to bring in the lighting that you need or the audio that you need, then you can’t do those shows here. For me, it means that some other area of the production or some of the paycheques that we give to the people on the stage can get bumped up now because the centre will be providing stuff.
“The government is tangibly supporting the onstage artist, and in a direct way as well.”