It took a little while, but Halifax finally got its new-and-improved convention centre in 2017. When that happened, the city also gained another available parcel of valuable downtown real estate to make good use of—the former World Trade and Convention Centre.
Soon, that space will be filled with working artists from all walks of life, local businesses and non-profit organizations, as well as bustling crowds made up of patrons of the arts as the new Culture Link CIC gets ready to open its doors there.
First things first: what is a CIC?
“CIC’ stands for ‘Community Interest Company,’” says Culture Link co-founder Marc Almon. “The way it works is we are a for-profit company; however, 50 per cent of our profits have to go back to the community in some capacity, and there’s also an asset lock, so our assets stay in the community.”
The plan is to provide office, performance and creative spaces for local artists and creatives, both individuals and organizations, and become a hub for professional artistic development in the city.
“It’s not about hobby,” says Almon. “In fact, that’s very low on our priority list for us. We’re talking about trying to bring our creator facilities here online, so that will have a major impact on their development as artists and creatives. What we are trying to do is create a home base for creatives in the heart of downtown Halifax.”
Some of the organizations already setting up shop include the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative (AFCOOP), Carbon Arc Cinema and the East Coast Music Awards, with plenty more lining up for a spot inside.
“Those are the kinds of organizations we want to be supporting,” says Almon. “We are one of the very first community interest companies established in the country. We’re very fortunate here in Nova Scotia to have a new kind of corporate entity.”
There is an audience component as well. One of the first things to be completed in the space is the Culture Link production soundstage, where television programs like This Hour Has 22 Minutes will record. There is also a cinema for film screening, and they expect to host recitals in their dance hall and fill exhibition areas with art and sculptures, all for the public to enjoy.
“The idea is that general audiences here have a destination they can go to every night and there’s at least something going on that is of interest,” says Almon.
The Culture Link’s business model is to generate revenue from the sale of tickets to many of these pubic events, along with fees from artists and organizations renting space or equipment to ply their trades.
“We will be expecting people to pay something—this space has to at least break even,” says Almon, adding that they do plan to fundraise in order to sponsor under-represented or up-and-coming artists. “That’s very important to us. We want to be reaching out to communities that maybe have, in the past, not had access to these kinds of resources.”
Some of the communities the Culture Link hopes to court include the African Nova Scotian community, the LGBTQ community, the multitude of indigenous communities, and of course, the international community of Halifax.
“That’s also very important; you want to be bringing people in from other parts of the world so we can enjoy their artistry and be moved by it,” says Almon. “Culture is the programming language of humanity. If we want to change the outcome we’re seeing right now—if you want to make a more inclusive, dynamic, resilient society—we need to embrace diversity. We need to create inclusive spaces and I feel like the artists are the ones meeting the charge. It’s through our cultural offerings that we’re able to show them the way.”
While still in the early stages of program planning at Culture Link, Almon says that cultural diversity is a top priority and the CIC has already laid the groundwork for anticipating the needs of multicultural artists.
That’s where Culture Link’s non-profit advisory board, The Link Performing Arts Society, comes into play.
“We have now actually formed a committee—and we plan to form other committees as the project unfolds—but the very first committee we have, which we felt was the most essential, is what we call the Collective of Voices Committee, which is our diversity and inclusion committee,” Almon explains. “We had, about two weeks ago, our first big roundtable that we organized, where we had over 40 artists of diverse backgrounds [to see the] completed soundstage of the facility. It was a great opportunity for us to really start hashing out how we can develop those policies.”
Almon says he’s proud of the groundwork they’ve started to lay down to bolster the cultural diversity on offer at Culture Link, but he also knows that work is just the beginning. He and the others behind the project are hoping to hear from members of the different communities of HRM about what they think can be done to improve the public’s exposure to their cultures through art.
“Our door is open,” says Almon. “We want to hear from people about their visions for the space.”
Almon points out that Halifax has enjoyed not only a growth in the international community in recent years, but also the sense of pride in that community has grown as well. Almon hopes the Culture Link can reflect that aspect of the city’s identity back to the public.
“We have a real opportunity here to accommodate a wide variety of needs,” he says. “We really want this to feel like it is an expression of the diversity that is Halifax, that Halifax is becoming.”
Culture Link CIC is slated to open in Fall 2020.