Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts

[The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts]

The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts is located along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. Embracing the principles of interactivity and integration, the facility is home to the creative arts at Queen's: the Dan School of Drama and Music, the Department of Film and Media, and the Bachelor of Fine Art program all share the teaching and performance spaces within.

The opening of "The Isabel,” the nickname applied to the new facility by the Queen’s community, in 2014 was long awaited. For a campus vibrant with academic creativity, Queen’s early years were often short on the performing arts. There were many wonderful performances by the Glee Club, the Faculty Players and student and faculty musicians, but these were hindered by the lack of suitable performance venues. Despite a glorious hammer-vault ceiling, Convocation Hall (which opened in 1878) offered a limited stage and imperfect acoustics. Grant Hall (1905) had 900 seats, but once again the acoustics were challenging and had to contend with winter heating. Other campus stages – in Dunning Hall and McArthur Hall, for instance – alleviated the situation for some kinds of performances.

A series of student-led initiatives through the 1900s made a performance space seem within reach, but each one eventually fell through. The 21st century dawned and, despite the presence of a thriving School of Music, a bachelor of Fine Arts program, film studies and a cycle of annual drama productions, Queen’s still lacked a big stage. The, in the early 2000s, Drs. Alfred and Isabel Bader expressed their interest.

The Baders had long supported the visual arts at Queen’s, endowing the Agnes Etherington Art Centre with a trove of European art. Their promise of a lead donation prompted Principal Karen Hitchcock into negotiations in 2006 with the City of Kingston for a choice waterfront site just west of the main campus. Now, Queen’s had sufficient momentum for a performance space.

By 2009, the financing was in place: a remarkable $31-million in donations from the Baders, followed by $15 million in matching contributions from the federal and provincial governments. Queen’s, the City of Kingston and many other generous donors helped make the Isabel a reality.

[The performance hall at the Isabel]
The Performance Hall at the Isabel

The Centre's building, was designed by Snohetta, a Norwegian architectural firm, and N45 Architects of Ottawa as a partnership of the two firms. It incorporate the existing heritage buildings of the Morton's brewery (1840), stable buildings, and the Stella Buck building into the modern facility.

In the fall of 2014, the 80,000 square-foot, $72-million Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts opened to architectural and cultural acclaim. The main performance hall with its 566 seats and walls of layered heritage hardwood panelling is complemented by a studio theatre, a rehearsal hall, and a film screening room, all wrapped inside a sculpted exterior of glass and steel. Patrons arrive at the Isabel’s spacious foyer with its sweeping view of Lake Ontario.

The Globe and Mail hailed the centre as “a masterpiece completed.”

[Isabel and Alfred Bader at the opening of the Isabel]
Drs Isabel and Alfred Bader at the grand opening celebrations for the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts (Photo by Lars Hagberg)

The Isabel’s first director, Jerry Doiron, proudly described it as “a consummate storytelling space – stories that reveal the human condition for what it is: complex, often confusing and ever beautiful.”

Learn more: Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts...