Maple Ridge arts council turns 40
Have you heard the old saying, “The dripping of water wears away stone”?
This sounds like the long process our arts community endured before the general population and three levels of government agreed that we needed a viable arts centre here.
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Arts Council will celebrate its 40-year existence with a dinner dance to be held on Oct. 21 at the Pitt Meadows Golf Course.
Members of all the arts groups that belong to the council will enjoy displays and reminders of their long struggle to build our downtown arts centre – the one we call The ACT.
Back in 1971, there were many active arts groups in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. The visual and performing arts were given a provincial grant to organize an arts council for member groups within School District No. 42.
One of the early member groups was the Haney Theatre Youth Group, which had a small grant to help mount their performances.
Soon the Arts Council of T’Lagunna, which was the original name for the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Arts Council, presented a spring cultural fair. The art displays and musical performances were in the Centennial Arena and the Pioneer Room. A very young pianist, Jackie Parker performed in the 1977 cultural fair.
All of this early activity was done by a host of volunteers, on the arts council board and within the various arts groups.
The newspaper clippings in three volumes of the scrapbook kept by the arts council tell of talent shows, benefit concerts, poetry readings, and the tiny grants that accomplished large benefits to member groups.
A constant topic was the need for better accommodation for the arts and more financial support.
Today’s photograph of the Maple Ridge Orchestra performing on an improvised stage in 1976 gives us an idea of the makeshift and temporary places we could enjoy artistic productions.
There were plays performed in school auditoriums, Garibaldi Workshop art shows in the library, annual arts council displays and events in the local malls.
The Centennial Arts Centre building behind the orchestra was part of our Maple Ridge Century ’74 celebrations, but before long this was taken over by the senior citizens who needed their own space.
A small art gallery outside the old arena served for a while.
The first feasibility study for the building of a 500-seat theatre was approved by council in 1986, but actual construction was put off because the project was too expensive.
In 1988, the arts council employed its first paid coordinator, Willimena Rathoni-Reus. Her office was a desk in the small kitchen of the art gallery.
A referendum in 1990 to build a theatre in conjunction with the construction of Thomas Haney Secondary School went down to defeat, after an unexpectedly strong “no” campaign. The hard work and lobbying went on, with Brenda Finlayson as executive director of the arts council.
All member groups were involved in planning and fundraising.
On May 17, 2003, the art community gathered for the grand opening of The ACT, with its two theatres, art gallery, studio and meeting space. The plaque reads: “Bringing Art to the Heart of Our Community.”
Sheila Nickols is past president of the Maple Ridge Historical Society.