Strong support at arts centre meeting

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The Lynnwood Arts Centre Corporation has an ace up its sleeve in its bid to re-open the gallery in downtown Simcoe.

Lynnwood has accumulated a number of interesting pieces over the past 45 years, some of which are worth a considerable amount.

At a public meeting on March 5, a past associate of Lynnwood suggested selling one to jumpstart the gallery’s next chapter.

“I’m going to throw into the discussion a real hot potato,” Julie Stone, a former art educator at the gallery, told the crowd of 80 at the Simcoe branch of the Norfolk Public Library.

“You have an Alex Colville. Are you going to let it sit in a closet or have it carry you into the future?”

Stone was referring to a modest oil painting that the late Hazel Race of Simcoe purchased for Lynnwood in the 1970s for about $35,000. Titled May Day, the painting depicts a young woman leaning against a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, rendered in the late painter’s signature, hyper-realistic style.

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Ellen McIntosh-Green of Simcoe, former curator and chair of the Lynnwood board of directors, negotiated the purchase with the artist directly.

Following last Thursday’s meeting, McIntosh-Green pegged the painting’s value in the high six figures. She has misgivings about selling it, calling May Day “the centrepiece” of the Lynnwood collection.

Due to the value of this painting and other pieces at Lynnwood, money should not be an issue in the grassroots bid to put the arts centre back on its feet.

Norfolk County operated Lynnwood as the Norfolk Arts Centre until its abrupt closure in early February. Citing deteriorating finances, Norfolk council closed the arts centre and dismissed curator Roberta Grosland as part of its 2020 budget deliberations at the end of January.

At the March 5 meeting, Simcoe BIA director Les Anderson said the arts centre’s most recent balance sheet explains the county’s actions. In 2019, the arts centre cost about $350,000 to operate. Meanwhile, total revenue – including government grants – came to about $32,000.

“We’re not here to debate council’s decision or to criticize anyone,” Anderson said. “The decision has already been made.”

Several county officials took in Thursday’s proceedings with interest.

This included Heather King, CEO of the Norfolk Public Library, Bill Cridland, Norfolk’s acting CAO and general manager of community services, and county solicitor Paula Boutis, Norfolk’s acting general manager of development and cultural services.

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As of April 1, the county will transfer responsibility for heritage and cultural matters to Cridland’s department. Cridland told the crowd Lynnwood’s prospects appear bright given the meeting’s turnout.

“There’s a lot of negotiation yet to flesh this out,” Cridland said. “But this is a very positive step. If we only saw four people here, we would say the (Lynnwood) corporation has a lot of work left to do.

“It is up to the corporation now to come to us with what they’ve learned. Everyone hopes this group can take it over. Bring us your business plan, and we’ll take it from there.”

Overwhelmed by the cost of repairs to the Lynnwood property – a national heritage site — the Lynnwood board petitioned Norfolk County to take over in 2003.

The Lynnwood Arts Centre Corporation never disbanded. Its role in recent years has been applying for grants on behalf of the county.

“We were very much on the back shelf, in the closet,” corporate chair and Simcoe business owner Brendalee Engelhardt said, adding next steps include the creation of a volunteer registry, the formation of a steering committee, and the establishment of working groups in the areas of finance, fund-raising and operations among others.

Prospective volunteers and members of the public with ideas for Lynnwood’s future are encouraged to email expressions of interest to les.anderson@sympatico.ca .

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