CORNWALL, Ont. – There appeared to be a general consensus that a visual and performing arts center will be in Cornwall. The question is when?
The candidates for city council and three for mayor tackled the issue of arts and culture at the Cornwall Public Library tonight.
Incumbent Syd Gardiner sees the Aultsville Theater as a future cultural center. But with funding drying up from the province, he says the arts and culture community will need to tackle new sources of revenue such as the federal government and Trillium grants. Candidate Greg Kielec also feels the theater on Montreal Road is the “smartest way forward” for a performing arts center. Kielec also spoke about the previous administration “losing its way” and he wants to build faith back with the public.
Carilyne Hebert is fully behind an arts center and hiring an arts and culture coordinator. She believes it would pay back the city “10 fold” in tourism and employment. Candidate Heather Megill echoed the sentiment. “(We need to) exercise the mind as well as the body,” she said, referring to past community projects like the Benson and Aquatic Centers.
Incumbent Maurice Dupelle told the crowd of nearly 70 people the arts are the “foundation of this community.” But he believes taxpayers shouldn’t foot the entire bill saying money should come from a mix of tax dollars and fund raising.
Elaine MacDonald believes a center would bring more elderly and retirees back to Cornwall and stimulate the economy.
Candidate Claude McIntosh believes there needs to be a better understanding of the arts. “The majority don’t understand the arts scene,” he said.
Denis Sabourin said he fully stands behind the arts after covering the scene as a journalist. He also spoke of his role in government to help transition the library to its current location on Second Street. He wants to use his experience to “make things happen.”
Candidate Rony Macarone believes an arts center would help with youth retention. “We need to have a long run focus on millennial or they will move away,” he said.
As for the mayoral candidates, Jamie Gilcig believes the arts center should be in the downtown at the current site of the Cornwall Public Library. He says the city has to look at its past wrongs in order to move ahead. “You can’t live your life on Xanax,” he said.
Bob Kilger says the arts center is progressing and is getting “nearer and nearer.” But the incumbent conceded. “We have been a little guilty of under-emphasizing arts and culture.”
Candidate Leslie O’Shaughnessy says the cost of building an arts center will not be the long term challenge. It will be the operational costs. “Any project that starts from the community up will work,” he said. O’Shaughnessy pointed to the Benson Center as a project eight years in the making. He is confident the arts center will be built but it will take time.
Some of the candidates weren’t able to debate. Brock Frost had to be taken to hospital by ambulance part way through the evening after he blacked out several times. He later issued a statement on social media saying he is okay. Candidates Justin Towndale and Geoff Stephenson also sent their regrets.