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An expanded Arts Centre for Fountain School's future

- July 21, 2016

An early rendering of the proposed performing arts centre addition, as viewed from Seymour Street.
An early rendering of the proposed performing arts centre addition, as viewed from Seymour Street.

Two years ago, Dal’s Departments of Music and Theatre came together to form the Fountain School of Performing Arts, a merger made possible by a transformative $10 million gift from the Fountain family.

It’s a change that’s meant increased collaboration and new intersections for Dal’s Music and Theatre programs, not to mention new scholarships, artist-in-residence programs and more. And it’s expanding the impact of academic programs and community space that play vital roles in Halifax and Nova Scotia’s vibrant arts and culture scene.

That’s why the university is in the midst of planning and fundraising for an expansion to the Dalhousie Arts Centre, a $27.7-million community-based capital project to accommodate the new scope of the Fountain School and address some of the operational challenges posed by its aging facilities.  

“The Dalhousie Arts Centre is a real point of pride for our community, and it’s been a hub for the performing arts on Canada’s east coast for more than 45 years,” says Ian Nason, Dalhousie’s vice-president finance and administration. “This expansion is about strengthening that capacity, while helping establish the Fountain School of Performing Arts as a leading voice in making the performing arts a more visible and valued part of our communities.”

The university will soon be requesting proposals for design services on the project, which would add a 37,000 sq. ft., three-storey performing arts wing to the Seymour Street side of the Arts Centre. (The included images are early renderings of what the space may look like.)

The addition will include a new concert hall and practice rooms, and will allow Dal’s Costume Studies program — currently housed in rented space at the corner of Coburg and Oxford streets — to be fully integrated with the other programs in the Fountain School.

“Anyone passionate about the performing arts knows that opportunities for collaboration are key to artistic growth and exploration,” says Jacqueline Warwick, director of the Fountain School of Performing Arts. “With all of us together under one roof, our students and faculty will have many more opportunities to talk together, learn together and create together.”

A new concert hall, space for Costume Studies and more

This November marks the 45th anniversary of the existing Arts Centre, and while its importance as a Dal and community facility hasn’t dwindled, it was built for a Dalhousie half the size of what it is today. As noted, there isn’t even room in the building for Dal’s Costume Studies program, the only one of its kind in North America: currently, for theatre productions, the Fountain School has to truck wardrobe back and forth for cleaning and repairs during the run of a play. And as with any building of its age, its mechanical and operational systems are in need of repair and upgrade.

An early rendering demonstrating what the building’s lobby interior could look like.

The Arts Centre expansion looks to address these issues and add new capacities. Its most prominent feature will be a brand new 300-seat concert hall. The concert hall will be able to accommodate an orchestra while offering a more intimate audience experience than the 1000-seat Rebecca Cohn, representing an important new facility to the arts community in Nova Scotia; it will be the only one of its kind in the region.

“This will be a fantastic boost to our music students as well,” says Dr. Warwick. “For decades we have held our student recitals and concerts for choirs, orchestras, and other ensembles in venues around the city. This has helped us build some great relationships with neighbours like St Andrew’s United Church, but it will be wonderful to have our orchestra rehearse and perform in a hall designed for that kind of sound.”

The Arts Centre expansion project also includes:

  • A rehearsal studio, 15 practice rooms and three private teaching rooms.
  • Space for Costume Studies, including four innovative studios with fitting rooms, laundry and drying facilities that will allow students and faculty to better integrate with the Fountain School’s other programs.
  • A revitalization of the existing building’s systems (electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilation), as well as upgrades in soundproofing, air-handling systems and Internet accessibility.

Fundraising support

The university aims to raise the capital required for the expansion project through fundraising.

“The initial response from early supporters of the campaign has been very encouraging,” says Stephen Harding, assistant vice-president of development for Dalhousie. “We have a very engaged group of volunteers from Canada, New York, Bermuda and London on the campaign cabinet for the project. The importance of a strong and vibrant performing arts program at Dalhousie is resonating, and supporters understand the impact the program and performing spaces have on the citizens and employers in Nova Scotia.”
Campaign volunteers are currently focusing on the early donors for the project.
“We are also encouraged by a growing list of performing artists who have lent their names to this campaign — artists representing theatre, classical music, east coast music and costume studies — which will help build momentum and excitement for the campaign,” adds Harding. “It is clear that the Rebecca Cohn and the Dalhousie Arts Centre holds a very special place in the hearts of performers, many of whom got their start on the stage of the Cohn.”

The Arts Centre expansion does not have an estimated completion date as of yet, as timelines will be contingent on design and fundraising. But the Fountain School is excited by what the project represents.

“It will be thrilling to see what kinds of talent grow and flourish in our new space, and then come out to take the arts world by storm,” says Dr. Warwick.


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