Plans for a new downtown academic and arts centre in Edmonton have secured interest and excitement from the Faculty of Arts, which is planning to leap at the chance to offer its students the opportunities the new centre will present.
Despite some confusion over the proposed centre as a de facto U of A campus, the centre is actually an initiative brought forward by Irving and Dianne Kipnes, Edmonton philanthropists, who are formally naming the centre the Edmonton Downtown Academic and Cultural Centre (E-DACC).
“We have heard strongly from our students, especially about what limited resources we have (and) what limited space we have,” said Lesley Cormack, the dean of Arts.
“We have been so hard-pressed to find … new and purpose-built space for the Faculty of Arts, and I think if it works — and it’s still (in the) very early stages of development — but if it works, it will be this amazing site for Arts students, for our professors and the wonderful performances of art that they do.”
Cormack said she has been particularly aware of the faculty’s limitations in regards to the Department of Music, which often lacks sufficient space to put on performances.
“Convocation Hall is woefully inadequate, and we can’t even get our bigger ensembles on that stage,” she explained. “As it’s envisaged now, we would have control of one concert hall (at the Centre) that would be primarily for the Department of Music, but we would have the ability to access the bigger spaces.”
According to a report by the Edmonton Journal, the centre calls for four new theatres surrounding a glass-covered plaza north of City Hall. However, the U of A would simply be one of many prospective tenants in the new space — depending on funding from the provincial government.
“There are a lot of different parts to the funding of this. There’s the building of the facility, and we would not be involved in that,” Cormack said.
“What we would be looking for, for money from the provincial government … would be a much more modest amount, because it would be a yearly lease.”
On Monday, city councilors gathered for an update on the arts centre. During this meeting, U of A President Indira Samarasekera gave a statement on behalf of the U of A.
“We enthusiastically support this visionary proposal to develop an academic and cultural campus in the heart of downtown Edmonton,” she said.
“The E-DACC initiative will not only strengthen the university’s downtown presence, but offers an opportunity for the U of A to advance its goals of providing a vibrant Arts education — an education that is critically important in today’s evolving, knowledge-based economy.”
Cormack said the U of A’s interest in the centre extends beyond the performing arts.
“One of the things that we’re interested in looking at is interdisciplinary lab space — black boxes where we can put together people with electronics understanding, design, social change — so that we would have a flexible space that could bring other groups together,” she said.
“It also is quite possible that we might have some other courses taught downtown, and in order to make this a true facility that works for students we would have to make sure that it didn’t make it difficult for students to move back and forth between the downtown and the main campus.”
City Hall has requested a business plan for the centre by April.
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