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Vernon  

Greater Vernon said "Yes"

After 10 years of efforts to have a new cultural facility built and just after 11 o’clock on Saturday night, at a buoyant but growing quiet referendum results party held in the Vernon Public Art Gallery (VPAG), executive director Dauna Kennedy received a phone call. She took a breath, and, with a straight face, called the crowd’s attention: “Everyone, we have the results.” 

The results were the Greater Vernon Cultural Centre referendum had passed: 5,357 people had voted against 7,850 people had voted in favour of borrowing up to $25 million of the total $40 million cost to build a cultural centre that will house VPAG, the Greater Vernon Museum & Archives (GVMA) and include community gathering and performance spaces. 

“It was such a relief. We have been working toward this for such a long time,” says Kennedy.    “We had a good feeling, but you just don’t know until you have those results.” 

Located in downtown Vernon at 3103 30th Street, kitty corner to Vernon City Hall, the three-storey centre will have a gross square footage of 58,000 sq ft.

It will double the art gallery and museum’s current space along with incorporating workshop rooms and a 150+-seat performance area.

The purpose-built centre will also have the proper environmental controls required to host national and traveling exhibitions, and protect permanent collection art, artifacts and archives (constant risk of leaks and flooding has the gallery’s 600+ pieces covered in plastic bags, and the museum was having to pay for off-site storage). 

While the chance to preserve history and offer greater opportunities to experience culture may have motivated many, the Yes4Culture campaign was seen by some as a chance to help create a safe and vibrant downtown in a community struggling with homelessness, and contribute to a sustainable economy by drawing tourists, supporting local businesses and becoming a community of choice for Alberta and Lower Mainland families and professionals moving to the Interior.

“We are proud and thankful that Greater Vernon had the vision to help make this a reality.

This new building will ensure we continue to preserve the past, grow with the future and bring all of the Greater Vernon Community together,” says interim GVMA executive director Roger Lamoureux, who is especially looking forward to improved First Nations exhibits and the chance to house and enhance the sports hall of fame currently at the Kal Tire arena. 

“We know of other Interior communities who’ve had similar referendums that didn’t pass, and it impacts the kinds of people and businesses they can attract.

This centre is going to benefit our community in so many ways, for many years to come.”                       

A study recently conducted by Canadian Heritage showed the economic impact of cultural spending (festivals, live performances, visual arts, etc.) in the North Okanagan alone was $65 million in 2016 and $7.8 billion in BC.

The referendum included voters in Vernon, Coldstream and two electoral areas that are part of the Regional District of the North Okanagan. 

As Lamoureux, Kennedy and dozens of supporters set down their wine glasses and stacked chairs Saturday night, talk quickly shifted to “the real work” ahead.

In order for the centre to move into the loans and building stage, it must raise the $15 million in government grants and donations. 

“We do have a lot of work ahead but we’ve got some incredible momentum and we know this is what our community wants,” says Kennedy.

“Now we can move forward with the trust of our community to create a purpose-built home for our two museological institutions along with space to meet the needs of our other cultural groups.”

— Contributed by Greater Vernon Cultural Centre Champions



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