Accessibility has always been a key factor in federal cultural policy – in terms of physical location and affordability. It was a belief in the need to make cultural experiences available to the maximum number of Canadians that drove the flurry of building in the 1960s and 1970s: theatres, concert halls, galleries, and museums sprang up across the country.
Even so, we find ourselves desperately short of adequate spaces in which to make the works of Canada’s artists available to Canadians. Many of the buildings of three decades ago are showing their age and their functional limitations. And while much expansion, refurbishment, and new building are scheduled, the revolution in communications and performance delivery suggests both the need and the opportunity to make better use of traditional spaces.
Flexible forms of exhibition space for the arts – venues that are home to all forms of music, dance, theatre, and video art, – are not new. However, consideration should be given to the imaginative use not only of libraries, community centres, theatres, art galleries, museums, and concert halls, but of Canada’s heritage buildings and monuments. Here, as everywhere, human beings have created symbols of permanence, – legacies that endure and tell something of the story of those who came before. If the organizations operating these sites are willing to go beyond a conventional concept of their use, perhaps with the contributions of the community, much opportunity exists to place creativity at the heart of the community.
Buildings with Canada’s history embedded in their bricks and beams can be found across the country, and new initiatives should go far beyond the merely preservative. Much of Canada’s built heritage, with irs diversity of references to colourful stories, its stylistic distinctiveness, and the stability implicit in its survival, lends itself to the imaginative reuse in urban development. Turning heritage structures and sites into centres for cultural activity is only the most obvious approach; the careful integration of those structures into evolving cityscapes will add vitality and cultural resonance to urban planning, and could lead to intriguing collaborations between designers and conservation experts.
In many places, time is of the essence. Over 20 per cent of Canada’s built heritage has been lost in the past two decades alone and one of the obligations of government is the preservation and maintenance of what remains. Opportunities for performance and presentation should be a prime consideration in the process.