What’s Your Take: The Community of Art by Douglas Syrota

In this series, Northumberland artists share their views on issues related to the arts.

This time, artist Douglas Syrota shares his ideas for a Community Arts Centre at Brookside in Cobourg, while architect Dimitri Papatheodorou will give his own take on how to develop Brookside for housing and the arts.

“Arts and culture can uplift a community in positive ways. Cobourg and Northumberland County have to find the will.”

Douglas Syrota

Douglas Syrota

The Town of Cobourg seems to have a creative block. It’s figuratively staring at two blank canvases and thinking:  ‘What to do? What to do? What to do?”

The canvases, of course, are two properties in town that are in need of repurposing. The old Cobourg Memorial Arena (no hockey anymore) and Brookside (no youth offenders anymore).

Both are opportunities for something. But what? To break this creative block the town is soliciting public opinion with its on-line Engage Cobourg surveys.

The latter, Brookside, has immediate curb appeal. It occupies approximately 30 acres in Cobourg’s east end. Strathmore, the imposing white mansion, looks like something from the American Deep South. The grounds, at least along King Street, feature mature trees and a brook, oddly enough called Brook.

The survey responses are filled with creative suggestions of all varieties. Including the negative. ‘Don’t waste my tax dollar on another boondoggle.’  We’ll ignore the negative because the town is looking for suggestions. So I’m assuming they want to move forward on something.

So here’s an old idea that’s come up before but needs to be repeated. A centralized Community Arts Centre.

The AGN, Art Gallery of Northumberland, is a worthwhile institution. It has a large collection of art, and a good sense of direction. But, some residents of Cobourg don’t even know where it is exactly. The AGN has no street creed. No street presence. It’s in a small space so anything new pushes the collection back to some U-Store-It barn somewhere near the 401.

Why not let the AGN re-settle in Strathmore. It deserves more than what it’s settling for. But, the building is relatively large. A centralized community arts centre could occupy the rest. The community in this case being Northumberland. A rural county with a healthy artistic base.

This Centre could run independently of the AGN through a registered not-for-profit. The town would own and maintain the building. Real estate is an ageless asset. But the not-for-profit would be mandated to operate in black.  Revenue would come from the renting of space – studio, rehearsal, performance, classroom, meeting, and gallery, plus craft maker facilities.

This benefits all the artists, musicians, photographers, dancers and crafters regardless of age.

A not-for-profit model in the arts has proven effective in many other locales. A place to create.

The real possibility of instructional courses (day and evening) is a strong argument for this type of centre. The downside of living in a small town like Cobourg is the lack of continuing education in the arts. Currently the way to accomplish this is driving to Fleming College in Peterborough or Loyalist College in Belleville.  Not a desirable winter activity.

Although there are several art clubs in Northumberland, they tend to meet during the day. This has the effect of shutting out young working families. A lot of people do want to engage their creative side as a psychological release. This would provide the opportunity.

Most of the Brookside grounds could still be parceled off and sold off for much needed housing development. Retaining the mature parkland along King Street East allows for increased density.

Arts and culture can uplift a community in positive ways.

Cobourg and Northumberland County have to find the will.

If not at Brookside, maybe the ever-growing town bureaucracy could relocate to Strathmore as the New Town Hall and dedicate Victoria Hall as the new Arts Centre.

Strathmore at Brookside, Photo by Douglas Syrota

About Douglas:

Douglas Syrota is Chair of the Pine Ridge Art Association. After a career in broadcasting, he settled in Cobourg, Ontario, and reconnected with his early love for drawing and painting.

Northumberland Festival of the Arts will take place across Northumberland County from September 16 – October 2, 2022.

Northumberland Festival of the Arts is a volunteer-run not-for-profit arts organization.

To volunteer for NFOTA, please contact info@festivalofthearts.ca

To help support our events, please send your donation by Interac to fundraising@festivalofthearts.ca

3 Comments Add yours

  1. dmwootton says:

    Great suggestions for repurposing Strathmore at Brookside.

  2. Diane Taylor says:

    Very interesting ideas. If there could be a link between ‘arts and culture’ and housing in Brookside and the established Green Wood Coalition, which uplifts people struggling with homelessness and mental health, that would be a positive development, too.

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