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Another jewel in Queen’s crown

Another jewel in Queen’s crown

The University has announced plans for a new waterfront performing arts centre that would be a shining example of town-gown relations at their best.

One of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in the more than 30 years I’ve been at Queen’s has been my involvement in the planning of the University's proposed new Performing Arts Centre. I chaired the planning committee for 16 months prior to becoming Principal in May 2008 (when former Dean of Arts and Science, Bob Silverman, assumed the position). Since then it has been gratifying to champion the project with potential funders.

As plans for this extraordinary initiative have unfolded, my enthusiasm has continued to grow. Simply put, I believe the Performing Arts Centre would be another jewel in Queen’s crown.

Isabel Bader CentreAn artist’s rendering of the proposed Centre as viewed from the water.

Located across from St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital on the Kingston waterfront, and integrating space for four of the University’s arts programs – Drama, Music, Art, and Film and Media – the Centre would be a vibrant, cultural hub for campus and the entire region. With a 550-seat, acoustically superior concert hall, it would be a venue for world-class performers and a training facility for future leaders of Canadian and international arts communities. A 150-seat studio theatre, a 90-seat screening room, and a climate-controlled art gallery are other key components in the proposed Centre. Film and Media would be housed in a renovated heritage building on site.

The new facility would be accessible to local arts groups for concerts, theatrical performances, or exhibitions. As well, tenants of a city-owned building in the complex (the Tett Centre), which currently houses a number of artistic and cultural groups, would have opportunities to participate. Our aim is to create the feeling of an “arts village” – an energetic, warm and welcoming place where people would want to visit and spend time.

The University has consulted closely with the City on this project, which is another in a growing list of initiatives in which the town-gown relationship has been productive. We envision the Centre being a strong summer tourist attraction for the Kingston region, in the same vein as the world-renowned Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts or the Weston Playhouse in Vermont, where Queen’s drama professor Tim Fort is one of the artistic directors.

The projected cost of the new Centre is $60 million. Dr. Alfred Bader, Sc’45, Arts’46, MSc’47, LLD’86, and his wife, Dr. Isabel Bader, LLD’07, generous Queen’s benefactors, have given $14 million and promised and additional $4 million to help develop the project, and the City of Kingston has committed $6 million. The ­University is seeking funding through a combination of federal, provincial, and other private ­support for the balance. Construction will not begin until all the funding is in hand. Upon completion, the complex would be known as the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts.

The Centre has been designed by the eminent Norwegian and Canadian architectural firms Snøhetta and ema. Both are highly regarded for their experience with projects involving heritage buildings, culture, and extensive public consultation. The architects are committed to incorporating landscape into their design and to preserving the history of this site, with a seamless blending of old and new. Accessibility and sustainability concerns have also been key considerations.

An artist’s rendering of the concert hall in the proposed Centre Artist's rendering of the concert hall in the proposed Centre 

The new Centre would enhance Queen’s already distinctive arts programs and increase collaborations among ­departments and with the wider community. Cross-fertilization across the different artistic forms would be easier when all four disciplines, individually renowned for flexibility of programing, have performance, display, and teaching venues under the same roof. I hasten to add, however, that current campus performance spaces, such as in Theological Hall, would continue to be used.

At the March public meeting where the plans were presented, the audience broke into spontaneous applause when one community member described the design as “absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.” The only issues raised were about parking (often top of mind) and public transportation in the evenings. The University is working closely with the City to find solutions to these potential concerns.

Collaborating with the heads of our four arts departments in developing plans for the Centre has been my privilege and a pleasure. I’ve been delighted to see the degree to which these academic units have a joint vision and have worked together to accomplish it.

As a longtime resident of Kingston, I know this city has always had a strong arts tradition. The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts would be an outstanding facility to which anyone would be proud to take family members or guests to visit. Our goal is to create one of the best collaborative arts centres in North America, with world-class performances and an educational program that’s second to none. 

[Queen's Alumni Review 2009-2 cover]