Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

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Report shows the way to bold

LATEST REPORT #1,083: London now has an informed blueprint for developing a first class community cultural centre. Now the question: Is this council willing to give this city’s citizens a chance to perform in a big, brassy way?

Friday, March 6, 2015 – London Ontario

The main headline of Thursday’s London Free Press almost sounded gleeful: “Crash-endo. Damning consultant’s report is the requiem for Music London plan.”

The story beside the headline, written by the newspaper’s very capable City Hall reporter Pat Maloney – who does not, it should be noted, write the headlines – laid out details of a report by Novita Interpares which goes to council’s strategic priorities and policy committee on Monday.

The headline, however, misses the import of Novita’s conclusions. 

Yes their report certainly does damn the Music London plan for a new concert hall – the group, essentially a front for Orchestra London, called it Celebration Hall – that would have been part of a public-private commercial and residential development at the corner of Wolfe Street and Wellington, next to City Hall.

In truth, though, that plan got a stake through its heart in the October civic election when Joe Swan, then the executive director of Orchestra London, finished a very distant third in his bid to become London’s mayor. And really, the plan probably died when Joe Fontana, Mr. Swan’s political partner on this project, resigned in disgrace as mayor last July.

So we didn’t need a $90,000 report from a Toronto arts consultant to tell us the Music London plan had serious flaws. Most people already guessed that; insiders knew it for sure.

The really important thing about the Novita reports – there are four, see the links below – is that London now has an informed blueprint for developing a first class community cultural centre. We know how big it should be, how it should be designed, how it should be marketed, both to skeptical taxpayers and future patrons of the shows and concerts it could attract.

If city council is smart it will now assign the report to a citizen action committee with the instruction: Figure out how to make this happen. 

Perhaps five or so years from now, about the time our existing and deficient concert venue, Centennial Hall, reaches the end of its useful life, we’ll have something worthy with which to replace it. 

A good location, if as a community we really wanted to think boldly, would be at the Forks of the Thames, perhaps on the land currently occupied by the Middlesex-London Health Unit and owned by Middlesex County. Possibly the county could join the enterprise, since their citizens will be both presenters and patrons.

That idea, by the way, is not in the Novita report. Encouragement to think boldly is.

“The new facility needs to be more than a building,” the report says in its opening page. “It needs to be driven by an artistic vision supporting cultural development of the performing arts in London. In this role, it will have both an identify and a reality as a gathering place, as a place where performing products and events are created and as a place performances are enjoyed.

“The new facility will not simply be a replacement of an unsatisfactory concert hall (Centennial Hall), but an expanded and refined concept of a performing arts centre.”

Despite the many naysayers in London, such a place should not be considered a pipe dream. 

“Over the years, offerings in drama, musical theatre, concert and popular music and dance have created a taste and following in the London market for traditional arts forms. There is a firm basis on which to build existing and new program offerings.”

As the Novita report makes clear – and where the Music London proposal failed – is this new facility needs to embrace audiences far wider than classical music and enterprises far broader than the orchestra. A riverfront of artistic endeavours needs to be embraced and there should be as much production as performance.

That would be bold.

Well with all due respect to this – or any – city council, not if this is left in the hands of the politicians who will always find some reason for not doing it. That’s why council needs to strike a citizen committee of capable, energetic and connected people drawn from the London’s arts, business and creative communities to make the next push. Give them a decent budget, say $250,000, a mandate and a deadline. 

Appoint someone like Carol Stephenson, former dean of the Ivey Business School, to head the committee. Her credentials include the brand new $110 million business school building on the Western campus but, more importantly, a real skill in bringing disparate groups to consensus. 

That would be bold. 

Could London do that, be bold? We have before in our history. Look around London at all we have – most of which got started because someone said, We can do this.

That’s all it takes. 

Be bold London. 

We can do this. 

Novita Interpares Reports

Four reports on performing arts centres were prepared for the city. To read them follow the links below:

Market analysis

Design criteria and space function

Site analysis and criteria

Planning status and recommendations