ACWB launches fundraising campaign for arts incubator in downtown Fort McMurray

Proponents say the arts centre will said bring new life into downtown Fort McMurray, and support the artistic and creative talents of the region.

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Arts Council Wood Buffalo is launching a $3-million fundraising campaign for Arts Inc., a planned downtown arts incubator dedicated to creativity. The centre will open in the former Landmark Cinemas on Manning Avenue.

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ACWB executive director Liana Wheeldon said in an interview the project will bring new life into downtown, and support the artistic and creative talents already in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

“There are no standalone arts facilities in our region, so this will be the first opportunity to have that. There will be purpose-built spaces that are safe and accessible, which will be huge for the artists,” said Wheeldon. “We are going to start some construction this year.”

The former movie theatre has been empty since 2018 when Landmark Cinemas moved to Eagle Ridge. ACWB completed buying the building in 2022 in a $2.9-million deal.

Arts Inc. was supposed to cost $15 million to build and open in fall 2024. Inflation has hit construction costs and timelines, though. Wheeldon says the building is now expected to open in mid-2026 and cost $16 million to build. The municipality has contributed $5 million towards Arts Inc.

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“The arts community is really invested and excited about this. We’ve done a presentation to the chamber of commerce and engaged with businesses and industry, where we’ve also seen some interest and enthusiasm,” she said.

“The point of the facility is that it’s a social enterprise, so we’ll be subsidizing costs for the artists to use the spaces so it is accessible financially as well as physically.”

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The former Landmark Cinemas movie theatre in downtown Fort McMurray on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. The theatres closed after Landmark opened a newer multiplex in the suburb of Eagle Ridge on November 9, 2018. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network SunMedia

The front of the building will be mostly glass and open to the public. The lobby will be a place for workshops and events. The projection area will have offices that Wheeldon says will include the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo and St. Aidan’s Society. Much of the creative work will be done in the building’s remaining movie theatres.

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They include a culinary arts space and teaching kitchen; a visual arts studio for painting, drawing, sculpting and writing; a space for film, photography and multimedia production; a room for theatre productions, rehearsals and film showings; and a room with soundproof rooms with space for bands and individuals to practice. Wheeldon says this has been a popular demand from local musicians and singers.

The centre will also support arts programs in the First Nation, Métis and rural communities of the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region. ACWB already brings artists to rural communities, and the space will act as a place for rural and Indigenous artists to work.

Wheeldon also hopes to share artists and residency programs with the Edmonton Arts Council and Calgary Arts Development.

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