The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

University yet to start fundraising for new Clarion arts centre

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News Writer

The Clarion Project, a campaign to build a world-class fine and performing arts centre for the University of Saskatchewan, needs to secure funding.

Former Dean of Arts and Science Jo-Anne Dillon introduced the Clarion Project initiative in the college’s 2008 integrated plan. Dillon stepped down last month, but incoming Dean Peter Stoicheff said the project remains atop the college’s priority list.

“The Clarion is hugely important,” said Stoicheff. “Now is the time. The province is flourishing economically, and so is our city. Also Saskatoon has become recognized as a cultural centre, so for the first time in a long time it really makes sense to have something like this. We want to take advantage of that.”

Currently the fine arts facilities are split between the Murray Building, the Education Building and the John Mitchell Building.

The Clarion Project’s main objective is to construct an all-encompassing arts centre on campus, where the departments of music, drama, and art and art history could brush shoulders on a daily basis. There is talk that a new centre would incorporate digital studios, premier gallery space and house two performance venues with 300-plus seating capacity that could not only be used by the University, but the local arts scene as well.

A price tag for the proposed centre has yet to be decided, but similar projects at Toronto’s York University and  Montreal’s Concordia University have seen costs range between $60 and $80 million.

Like all large-scale capital ventures on campus, a steering committee has been created to provide guidance and overall direction to the project.

Chairing the committee is university provost and vice president academic Brett Fairbairn, who along with other various stakeholders has been working with the Dean of Arts and Science to create an academic vision plan for the project. Fairbairn and Stoicheff hope to take the academic plan to the University Board of Governors for approval within the year. If granted, the project will push forward its fund-raising agenda.

“The amount of money involved will be large and it takes patient work to come up with the right plan,” Fairbairn admitted. “For a facility like this, it will likely have to be a mixture of government funding and private donors.”

According to a recent news release, the provincial government has now invested more than $335 million into Saskatchewan’s post-secondary system since ”˜08 ”“ ”˜09, most of which has been directed into research and development projects. Major undertakings like the Canadian Light Source, the Health Sciences project and the International Vaccine Centre have put the U of S on the map as a global leader in scientific research.

Stoicheff has faith the government will step up to provide financial backing for the arts as well.

I have no doubt that the province will want to support it.

Dean of Arts and Science Peter Stoicheff

“This is the kind of thing that people want to support, so I have no doubt that the province will want to support it, it’s just were not there yet,” he said.

“President MacKinnon and many others would like to see a balance between the arts and sciences, and the Clarion represents the perfect opportunity to strike that balance,” said Stoicheff.

Primarily the Clarion Project will create a new home for students, but it would also open doors for independently-run galleries and concert promoters, as collaborative efforts with the arts community are an integral part of the project’s operating plan.

Although the Clarion Project would be a much needed boost to the arts on campus, there are still concerns about the university’s commitment to the project.

Bart Gazzola is a digital-media instructor at the U of S, and an active member of Saskatoon’s art community. He sees a great opportunity for the university and artist-run centres such as Paved, AKA and Tribe to work off each other, but with the recent severe reduction of sessionals in his department he’s leery of the college’s commitment to the arts.

“I’ve been there a while, and I’ve seen a lot of promises made,” said Gazzola. “The community hasn’t seen the department there for them in some time, so it’s going to require the University reach out and actually get involved.”

Many of the sessional instructors are some of the most engaged artists in the community, and with the art department unable to continue funding their courses, the future of the Clarion Project, and the art department itself, appears more uncertain than administration will admit.

“I’d really like the community to be part of the Clarion Project and for sessionals to survive, but that’s not going to happen the way things are now,” said Gazzola.

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image: David Stobbe

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