June 12th, 2021

Arts centre aspirations too big for a city of this size

By Letter to the Editor on June 10, 2021.

In a June 2 Herald article, councillors Carlson and Campbell make a case for a new Performing Arts Centre (PAC).
I have partaken of the performing arts all of my life. I had a spouse and raised a child both of whom are amateur performing artists. I do not need to be convinced that the performing arts add value to a community, nor that municipal governments should expend funds on recreation and culture projects and programming.
That does not mean that I am compelled to give unthinking and unqualified support to a project of spectacular overreach.
Councillor Carlson says we are the third-ranked city by population in Alberta. So what? Lethbridge has occupied the third (occasionally the fourth) rank for almost the entire history of Alberta.
Since 1960 the population of Lethbridge has nearly tripled, but the populations of Calgary and Edmonton have increased 6.4 and 5.5 times, respectively.
If rank has any persuasive force at all, it was far more powerful an argument in 1960 than it is today.
Our councillors often insist we should think of ourselves and act as a “small Calgary.” Well, what of Calgary and the performing arts? The Alberta government opened the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary in 1957 when the population of that city was already in excess of 200,000. It was and remains the responsibility of the province, and was always intended to serve regional needs. I suspect it will be quite a while yet before Lethbridge reaches that threshold, and in a post-COVID world, it will be a very long time indeed before a provincial government of any stripe makes another such project a priority.
The City of Calgary undertook to build the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts (since re-branded the Arts Common), an excellent multi-venue facility. It was opened in 1985, when the population of Calgary was 656,000.
In addition to grant funding similar to today’s infrastructure grants, that facility has been the beneficiary of significant corporate donations.
Curious that the PAC Steering Committee never mentions (at least publicly) alternate funding sources.
Calgary subsidizes the operations of the Arts Common (as it should), with an operating grant in its most recent budget of $2.6 million.
As a city one-fifteenth the size of Calgary, might Lethbridge then aspire to a facility requiring an annual operating subsidy of about $173,000 per year? Or recognizing that economies of scale will work in Calgary’s favour, should our aspiration be as much as double, say $350,000 per year?
The annual subsidy for the Yates (pre-COVID, of course) is just a little over $300,000.
Does this help us to decide how Lethbridge should “act” given our population? By contrast, the annual operating shortfall estimated for the new PAC in the current CIP is, I kid you not, $5.45 million. Or put another way, an annual per capita cost to residents of Lethbridge 31 times greater than the annual per capita cost to Calgarians of the Arts Common. This starts to look less like the aspirations of a “small Calgary” and more like the aspirations of a “midsize New York.”
The PAC Steering Committee has oft reported that the Yates is booked to capacity. PAC advocates have said as much for years. Councillor Campbell says that, normally, the Yates is “96 per cent filled during the year.”
It would seem another venue of some kind is warranted. Except that the current council included in the operating budget for 2019-22 special project N-88 (I emphasize pre-COVID).
This was an allocation of $170,000 over two years from the MRSR to the Yates (and a promise to consider a further two years extension), for an initiative to “actively seek out events and bookings to make more effective and efficient use of the space” with a goal to see a “reduction of ‘dark days’.”
Call me stupid, but I just don’t understand how a facility that is and has been booked to capacity for years requires extra funding to seek out bookings and reduce dark days.
I’m naturally inclined to believe that another venue would be nice, so it’s a dilemma – who to believe, the staff that manage the Yates and ask for a special initiative to help book the place, or the two councillors who appear to have a vested interest in a new building?
Brett Babki

Share this story:
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Les Elford

Brent; Very well stated! Thank you for your common sense. Granted; we are fortunate to have numerous talented artistic individuals in our community, A strong Arts and culture community always offer something positive to a community. Thankfully with the Yates Memorial Centre, the University of Lethbridge, our high school drama programs, the Enmax Centre and numerous, private facilities, (i.e Geomatic Attic) our arts community may be well represented and served for the time being. It appears a new Performing Arts Centre may be a “something nice to have item” at some point , when the city and the tax base is ready and able to support it. Surely there may be more, practical, utilitarian projects which would be higher on the “need to have” spectrum for the City of Lethbridge. Perhaps addressing the homeless issues, opioid issue, development of rehabilitation programs for substance abuse, domestic abuse, increasing serious crime rate. Perhaps focusing on attracting more major good paying employment opportunities, lowering the tax rates, utilities etc. should be priorities for the existing City Council and any new elected City Council could be considered instead of “pie in the sky” projects. Perhaps it is timely that a civic election is coming up to ensure any mayor new expenditures are well thought out and have a beneficial impact for the majority of the citizenry of Lethbridge.
Perhaps some of our existing facilities might be able to used more efficiently to support the arts community. ie out door concerts, increase focus on tourism in beautiful Southern Alberta once restrictions open up.
Thank you for your time and attention


Brett thank you again for your great comments I would like to tell you that Senator Banks a renowned musical person was in Lethbridge at Casa and openly stated looking at the proposed, PAC description boards at that time the proposed project was too big for the size of this City. The last consultant’s Schink& Scheiner report stated a reduced size a price tag of $65million Every presentation to Council by the art group the total price increases with additions up to $75million. Since Councilor Carlson took over as Committee Chair and Cambell as Council rep to the Committee a new consultant report was required with their add ons the price increased to $111,million. so operating costs increase to $9,547,000 they state rounded operating costs of $5,450,000. supposed funding 1/3 City, 1/3Province next 1/3 from where you see no contribution from art group. The question on Councillors Carlson and Campbell conflict of interest and City code of conduct, Councillor has previously declared a conflict of interest recused on financial funding to Yates because of long work with New West theatre who are affiliated with Allied Arts group


we can reconfigure the casa for a fraction of the cost of an entirely new place. if it means punting what amount to squatters out the place, so be it.

Seth Anthony


We could stop constantly giving the arts (a want) millions and millions of dollars. Let them operate within their means. Their venues should only survive based on their fundraising, admission costs, volunteering, sales commission, donations, etc. If they can’t survive on all that, then it’s because they’re too big, and/or the majority of the public doesn’t want their money spent on them. PERIOD.

Last edited 20 hours ago by Seth Anthony

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x