Opinion Editorial

Little artistic acorn worth the investment

By Dave Dawson, Orillia Packet & Times

(Postmedia Network)

(Postmedia Network)

It can take 20 to 50 years from the time you plant an acorn until a majestic oak tree is healthy and strong enough to start producing its own acorns. It's a lengthy, time-consuming process that requires fertile soil, strong roots, careful nurturing -- especially in the early stages -- and a little good luck.

Last week, city council decided to plant an acorn in the form of a $25,000 commitment to the Huronia Cultural Campus, a sort of Banff Centre for central Ontario that would transform the 265-acre Memorial Avenue property, long home to the now-shuttered Huronia Regional Centre. The plan is the brainchild of renowned artist Charles Pachter, who sees a landscape-altering facility that would include outdoor amphitheatres where symphonies and ballets could wow audiences, a sculpture park, live/work artist studios, a centre for digital innovation, conference space and much more. Pachter, who has a studio in Orillia and is building a home here, has managed to get luminaries like author Margaret Atwood, digital guru Don Tapscott, big-business executive Bonnie Brooks and public-policy specialist Ann Golden on board.

Perhaps more importantly, a grassroots steering committee has been created to help drive the project. It includes hard-working, well-connected local residents like Will McGarvey, Anderson Charters, Fred Larsen and Debbie Woodman. That committee recently made a pitch to city council for support. Council understands the potential for the project and agreed to provide $25,000 from its operating contingency fund. The grant will help the committee hire a staffer, set up a website and slowly begin to turn the vision into reality.

Mayor Steve Clarke is an enthusiastic proponent of the plan and has, at every opportunity, trumpeted the project at Queen's Park. "The province is starting to understand the potential for the whole region," the mayor said.

Charters said the city's support is a step in the right direction: "It demonstrates to other potential funders that this has got broad public support, as reflected by Orillia city council. The city, no matter what direction this thing takes, is always going to be a major player."

The steering committee is hoping to land a further $75,000 from the city over three years to help it become self-sufficient. The city is likely also to be asked to ante up $150,000 to cover one-third of the cost of a massive feasibility study for the project. But, for now, the city's commitment -- financially and conceptually -- is both symbolic and important. It allows the committee to move forward, to take the little steps now that could pave the way for a future -- decades down the road -- that will change the face of not only Orillia but the entire region.

Some might say a $25,000 acorn is an expensive proposition. But if the Huronia Cultural Campus grows and matures into anything close to what is envisioned, it may turn out to be the best investment the city ever made.

Grow, little acorn; grow!


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