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When world-class education meets world-class arts

  • Film editing room
    Students from the Department of Film and Media work in the state-of-the-art sound studio at the Isabel.
  • Students learn about film theory and criticism in one of our three new classrooms at the Isabel
    Among the learning spaces offered at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts are three bright, modern classrooms.
  • Student Lounge
    Queen's students, staff, and faculty can relax in the Henry Preston Courtney and Lillian Courtney Lounge overlooking Lake Ontario. (Photo by Suzy Lamont)
  • Film class in session in our 90-seat Gordon Vogt Film Screening Room at the Isabel Bader Centre
    A film class is held in the 90-seat Gordon Vogt Film Screening Room at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, one of the many modern learning spaces.
  • Theatre performance
    The Power Corporation of Canada Studio Theatre is a 100-seat black box studio theatre designed to provide the theatrical equivalent of a blank slate.
  • Performance Hall
    With a 566-seat capacity and world-class acoustics, the Performance Hall of the Isabel offers Queen's students and artists from around the world a performance experience like no other.

From the moment planning began on the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, it was envisioned the facility would play a leading role in transforming Queen’s University.

A world-class performing arts centre and learning facility, built thanks to a donation from Alfred and Isabel Bader, the overall focus on excellence was aimed at drawing acclaimed artists from around the world, provide Queen’s students with a transformational learning experience, while at the same time fostering innovation and acting as an incubator for new work and thought. 

“Dr. Alfred Bader was a visionary man who transformed the tragic adversity of his young life into a tremendous vitality for life and a celebration for the highest potential of humankind,” says Tricia Baldwin, Director of the Isabel. He set his vision and standards high.”

Opened in September 2014, the Isabel was designed by award-winning architecture firms Snøhetta and N45 Architecture Inc., in collaboration with acoustic and audiovisual consultants ARUP and theatre design consultants Theatre Projects Consultants. The result is a performing arts centre with no peer at a Canadian university. The Isabel is home to the Department of Film and Media and the Dan School of Drama and Music.

Now in its fifth season, Baldwin says the centre is meeting, and even exceeding, this original vision. Queen’s is a better educational institution now, she says, providing students with unique learning opportunities, whether in the concert hall, the theatre, or the classroom. 

In addition to attracting internationally-acclaimed and top emerging artists, the Isabel has branched into socially-engaged art in a powerful fusion of the arts and social justice with its Isabel Human Rights Arts Festival and the Ka’tarohkwi Festival of the Arts. 

“We imagine a university where socially-engaged art is an experiential approach to human rights, which helps future citizens transform political realities. We see artists as the cultural agents of change who bring issues of the minority into the field of vision of the majority – in a way that resonates,” Baldwin says. “The role of the arts is especially important right now in interpreting the contemporary ‘politics of identity’ that are fueling both the right and left sides of the political spectrum worldwide.

“What is the new dimension that has come in to the university experience as a result of having a world-class performing arts centre as part of the lifeblood of this institution?” she asks. “It actually expanded the architecture in our own minds and because it’s multi-disciplinary, it has started to create some really interesting collaborations that would have been different if we had just a film centre, a music centre, and a drama centre.”

And that, she believes, is the genius behind emphasizing excellence in the centre itself, as well as combining disciplines. The result has been creativity and innovation.

From the start, it was clear that The Isabel is a fantastic performing arts centre, with the concert hall in particular acting as a beacon for world-class acts as word of the stellar acoustics and performance experience spread.

As a result, the Queen’s and Kingston communities have been able to take advantage of these concerts, competitions, and festivals to see performers that otherwise may not have come to Kingston. The true beneficiaries, Baldwin points out, have been students of the performing arts who have been able to meet a wide range of artists and experience the same world-class facilities on a daily basis. 

“A great hall, like a great instrument, enables you to be the best that you can be,” she says, pointing to the excellence of the Isabel, from the architecture to the programming to the artist and audience experience. “That is very influential in life. In order for Canada to thrive we actually have to have a group of graduates who are shooting for the stars and not saying ‘good enough.’”

At the same time there has been a particular focus on bringing in emerging artists, both from across Canada and around the world. One example is Jeremy Dutcher, performer, composer, and member of the Tobique First Nation, who was awarded the 2018 Polaris Music Prize for his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. Previously Dutcher, who sang in Professor Dylan Robinson’s Songs of Sovereignty program at the 2017 Isabel Human Rights Arts Festival, grabbed the attention of those at The Isabel including Baldwin. Taken by the acoustic quality of performing arts centre, Dutcher returned to record his Polaris Prize winning album at The Isabel

Dutcher returns to The Isabel to perform in the inaugural Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts curated by Dylan Robinson and being held throughout March, an event that builds on the social engagement first sparked through the human rights festival.

The influence on students, and others in the Queen’s and Kingston communities, is already clear.

“There is nothing like when, as a student, you witness a world-class artist. We’ve really focused on attracting emerging artists, these young artists that are coming through are so fantastic, who have just gone for it and worked really hard,” Baldwin says. “That actually influences how you see the world because you are exposed to someone of your own generation, who has that laser-beam focus and has gone for it. I think that is a really great influence and also to have that international view rather than a parochial view to say these are the best artists in the world of different genres and different cultures.”

Away from the stage, The Isabel is also a world-class education facility. A hub of interdisciplinary exchange, The Isabel offers students and faculty members state-of-the-art facilities including an art and media lab, rehearsal hall, studio theatre, a 92-seat screening room, and film editing suites along with modern classrooms, a film and media resource library, and a student lounge overlooking Lake Ontario. 

Where to from here? 

“The next mountain to climb for the Isabel is to get immersed in the virtual reality and augmented reality world as it is integrated with live performance,” Baldwin says. “This will be an important door of entry into the arts for the next generations of artists and audiences to imaginatively engage in the arts.” 

Since its opening, The Isabel has grown and evolved along with the students and artists who walk it halls. These accomplishments could not have happened without the generosity of Alfred and Isabel Bader.

While Dr. Bader passed away on Dec. 23, at the age of 94, his legacy will live on through the continuing artistic and education excellence at The Isabel Bader Performing Arts Centre.

“Alfred Bader has enabled the university to be ambitious in the best sense of the word for itself,” Baldwin says. “He would not have supported something that did not transform the university. He wanted students to get a world-class experience and that is the bigger gift that is the Queen’s experience.” 

Learn more about The Isabel online, including upcoming performances and festivals.