/Minden Hills Cultural Centre will continue to be run by town
The Minden Hills Cultural Centre, located at 176 Bobcaygeon Road. /Submitted photo

Minden Hills Cultural Centre will continue to be run by town

Foundation board will have some new duties

By Stephen Petrick

The Minden Hills Cultural Centre will continue to be managed by the municipality, after council rejected a request last week to hand over all operational duties to the centre’s foundation board. The Minden Hills Cultural Centre Foundation, however, will begin to manage the centre’s gift shop and its membership program.

The decision, made at the May 26 council meeting, may ease some of the tension that’s built up between the centre’s most passionate supporters and the municipality in recent months.

The centre has been without a curator since late February when Laurie Carmount, a well-respected employee, stopped working there. Town officials wouldn’t say whether her leaving was voluntary or a dismissal, but the change led to renewed calls for the town to better manage and support the municipality-owned centre, which is a tourist draw and a sense of community pride.

The Cultural Centre is located at 176 Bobcaygeon Rd and it includes  the Agnes Jamieson Gallery, Minden Hills Museum and Heritage Village and Nature’s Place.

On April 28, members of the Minden Hills Cultural Centre Foundation (MHCCF), an organization that’s existed since 2002 to raise funds for programs, proposed to council that they take over managing the centre’s day-to-day operations. Following a delegation, town officials said they would consider the request and Minden Hills community services director Craig Belfry could file a report to council on the matter in late May.

Belfry’s report did not fully endorse the request, but it also didn’t quash the idea of a stronger partnership with the foundation board either.

The motion he recommended, which council eventually endorsed in a non-recorded vote, had four key lines. The first was for staff “to continue partnership conversations with the Minden Hills Cultural Centre Foundation.” The second and third lines endorsed the foundation taking over the gift shop and membership programs while the fourth line asked council to deny the request from the foundation to take on “the role of the governing body.”

The report outlined several reasons why Belfry thought a full takeover wasn’t a good idea. He listed his belief that the MHCCF has faced “instability” over the years (although it’s been around, officially since 2002, it only became reinvigorated around 2015). 

“The MHCCF was a strong foundation at one time, it needs to return to this position of strength and rebuild before any type of governance should be considered,” the report said.

Another bullet point listed that “the Foundation’s current financial position, and lack of a true business plan, does not put them in place to consider this proposal.”

While speaking to council, Belfry expressed optimism that the town and the centre’s biggest supporters, including foundation board members, can build a long-term vision for the centre with a positive working relationship.

“We’ve agreed that we will keep working together,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity to work together to start pushing this facility and engaging all parts of it to the community and showing it has potential.”

Before the vote passed, Mayor Brent Devolin expressed support for Belfry’s recommendation. He called the discussions happening now, “a great reset.”

“Although it started with a bumpy re-engagement of the conversation, there’s sincere interest on both sides to move this forward,” he said.

The MHCCF is made up of president Neil Briggs, secretary David Rea, directors Sue Tiffin, Emily Stonehouse and (non-voting director) Mary Hamilton.

When contacted by the Minden Times, Briggs expressed satisfaction with council’s decision, even though not all that was requested was given.

He is pleased that the town is showing renewed interest in propping up the centre and giving some responsibilities to the foundation.

“Sometimes when you try to address something you push the envelope to make a point,” he said.

Briggs said he had a productive meeting with Belfry recently and he believes the director and his colleagues with the town deserve a chance to put a plan together to ensure that the centre is properly run, with the right staff.

“The proof’s got to be in the pudding – you have to deliver now. He has to have that opportunity to deliver.”

Briggs also said that one of the keys moving forward, will be a stronger cultural centre advisory committee. He said the town-led committee had been meeting inconsistently – and that has to change.

Belfry’s report noted that the committee could be made stronger, as it’s recently been meeting with the minimum number of members (five), yet it could be boosted to have a maximum of 10 members, so more people can advocate for the centre and share ideas.

“This small a number shows that there is room for growth within the municipal advisory committee, and that community engagement is required to encourage the centre to reach its potential as a whole, as it comes out of the pandemic,” the report said.