By Stephen Petrick
Supporters of the Minden Hills Cultural Centre are proposing a new governance model for the centre, which would have its foundation board overseeing day-to-day management instead of municipal staff.
The proposal was delivered during a delegation at the April 28 Minden Hills council meeting, held virtually, and it follows a period in which the town’s handling of the centre has come under scrutiny.
The centre has been without a curator since late February when Laurie Carmount stopped working there. City officials haven’t said whether her leaving was voluntary or a dismissal, but, regardless, the news has led to renewed calls for the municipality to better manage the much loved, taxpayer-funded centre, which is known for drawing tourists and being a source of community pride.
The centre includes the Agnes Jamieson Gallery, Minden Hills Museum and Heritage Village and Nature’s Place.
While the delegation had the potential to make for a tense meeting – there’s clear friction between the centre’s most ardent supporters and town officials – council accepted the delegation and Mayor Brent Devolin called for town staff to file a report with their thoughts on the proposal. That report would likely be delivered at council’s May 26 meeting.
“What you’ve presented is a bit outside of the box, from my perspective and knowledge,” Devolin said. “Having said that, I’m not necessarily against those sorts of things.”
The delegation was led by Jack Brezina, who called the 176 Bobcaygeon Rd. facility a community “gem” and alluded to a history of tension over how the centre has been governed.
“Through the years the centre has not been without its troubled times, but each time, to its credit, the guiding beliefs underpinning the centre and the determination of the community and centre staff, it emerged to carry on. The most recent turmoil has prompted the reinvigoration of the Minden Hills Cultural Centre Foundation and the community, in general, to rush to the centre’s defence.”
The Minden Hills Cultural Centre board – currently made up of president Neil Briggs, secretary David Rea, directors Susan Murray, Sue Tiffin, Emily Stonehouse and (non-voting advisory committee representative) Mary Hamilton – has traditionally been in charge of fundraising for the centre, but not managing day-to-day operations.
Currently, the centre’s management falls under the portfolio of Minden Hills community services director Craig Belfry, who then reports to chief administrative officer Trisha McKibbin.
A slideshow delivered to council suggested that having the foundation oversee staff is not unique and falls within laws that dictate how museums in Ontario should be governed.
The proposed new structure would be similar to systems governing the Haliburton County Public Library or the Rails End Gallery and Arts Centre in Dysart et al.
“This model is a win-win,” said Briggs in a speech that followed Brezina’s talk. He said it would reduce the responsibilities of municipal staff, plus make the centre eligible for provincial and federal funding.
“We don’t believe the status quo is viable,” Briggs added.
The proposal seemed aimed at putting pressure on Devolin. The slideshow included a page which referenced a quote attributed to Devolin in local media, during his most recent campaign for mayor.
It quoted Devolin saying “Minden Hills council should re-engage many of the original stakeholders” associated with the centre and that he was “confident that collectively we can continue to grow the vision that Minden Hills Cultural Centre represents in our town.”
Devolin watched the April 28 presentation calmly, with little expression. But, at the end, he said, “this has the potential for a good start and dialogue.” He offered to Briggs and Brezina that “the spirit of where you want to go is not necessarily in conflict with council.”