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Metchosin arts centre looks to future after fixing its past

Costly repairs, construction on old school building now mostly complete
Metchosin Arts and Culture Centre treasurer Gail Nash and centre liaison Betty Hildreth stand in front of the new staircase constructed on the former schoolhouse. (Bailey Moreton/News Staff)

Nestled in the old Metchosin School building, the Metchosin Arts and Culture Centre is slowly building and growing into a community hub.

The Happy Valley Road centre is volunteer-run and rents cheap studio space out to artists and crafters so they can produce their wares. The space also has a gallery, drop-in rooms for rent and is home to a seniors centre. Supplies, furniture and volunteer time are regularly shared between the building’s various users.

“It’s a very symbiotic place, everyone helps each other,” said centre treasurer Gail Nash.

While the centre benefits from community support, it also needs financial support.

The building is rented from the District of Metchosin and studio space is rented out at reasonable rates to local artisans, musicians and crafters. Some of the smaller studios go for as little as $120 a month. At those prices the studio space is in demand from people across Greater Victoria – but preference is given to Metchosin artists.

READ MORE: District completes purchase of Metchosin elementary school

During the pandemic the centre shut down for a month and didn’t charge rent to artists during that time. One or two had to give up their studio spaces due to pandemic-related issues, but there is always a waiting list.

Betty Hildreth, who acts as a liaison for the centre, said the demand doesn’t just come from the modest prices, it has come via the building of the centre’s credibility.

“It’s gradually built up. They made a few mistakes in the beginning, financially,” she said. “They had a pretty high end art gallery, there was a paid curator, and so they went broke and had to go public for funding, just to get out from under it.”

Low prices are great for the artisans, but rent doesn’t bring in much cash for the centre. The rest of the money comes from grants, from local organizations and federally.

Nash said the centre has learned to live frugally, especially with a number of improvements needed on the building.

Hildreth added the higher expenses from the last couple of years are starting to slow down, “but it was to maintain and repair the external shell.”

Significant projects such as reconstructing the fire escape and the front staircase to the building took a large chunk of the centre’s funding. There’s a list of other projects they hope to get done, but they’ll need to be spread out over time and done when funding allows, Hildreth and Nash said. They’re working on securing some compensation from the district for covering the costs of maintaining the building.

As for the near future, Nash said a Christmas craft fair is being planned at the centre, COVID-19 restrictions allowing. After that planning for 2022 events will begin.


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