Camrose quickly becoming city of the arts
Leela Gilday performs at the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre during the 2017 Kodaly Symposium in Camrose, Alta. on Aug. 9, 2017. Ryan Stelter/Camrose Canadian
Camrose is not just for retirees anymore.
The city has been working diligently for the last number of years to position itself as a destination for entertainment dollars.
It was not long ago when entertainment options in the realm of arts and culture were rather limited in the Swan City, but the re-opening of the renovated of the 106-year-old Bailey Theatre in 2011 opened the door for so much more. When the state of the art Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre opened in 2014, Camrose was given a platform to compete for some of the top acts in Canada. This means not just people coming into the city for a show and a night out, but people staying in the city for those very same reasons.
The evolution of the entertainment industry in Camrose has had a profound impact on not just the economy locally, but the city's self-image.
"There has been an increase in cultural activity, particularly in the past few years where people have started to take more of a look at the economic impact," said Camrose arts director Jane Cherry-Lemire. "Perhaps part of the impetus for that is because people are looking for financial support and financial backers are often wanting to know what difference is going to be made financially."
Camrose has long been a breeding ground for the arts, however, much of it was at the grassroots level. It was a city that promoted arts as part of everyday life, but it was not always a local industry with the potential to be an economic driving force and defining characteristic of the city.
Big Valley Jamboree just completed its 25th year at Camrose Regional Exhibition and that show alone attracts more than 21,000 people a year and employs hundreds of people locally. BVJ brings an annual impact of between $16 and 18 million.
This is about more than an annual weekend long festival for the city.
The Lougheed Centre, which was a collaborative project between the University of Alberta and the City of Camrose, has witnessed this shift directly and are currently in the process of an economic impact study for the facility.
In just two full seasons of operation, however, Lougheed Centre general manager Nick Beach says the building is operating in the black and with 21 of their own presentations and numerous private dance festival rentals. Last year alone they printed more than 20,000 tickets, and that does not include online sales which Beach says would likely double that total. For their own shows, they sold 7,337 tickets for 21 shows.
"We exceeded our target by 22 per cent last year," said Beach. "That's a good year, people are embracing what we are doing and are excited about it. We're being told over and over again 'I used to leave for shows, and now I don't ever.'"
Next spring, he says, the $23 million theatre has only "three or four dark days" where there are no bookings at the Lougheed Centre.
He adds they have a solid working relationship with the Bailey Theatre. They generally do not compete for the same acts, acknowledging some acts work much better in the historic atmosphere and setup of the Bailey, while others – major productions like the Shumka Dancers – are more suited for the Lougheed Centre. This year the two theatres teamed up for Canada 150 with each venue hosting five shows in the Passport Across Canada series.
The reputation of the building is such that they are getting calls from major act like the Barenaked Ladies and Burton Cummings looking for open dates as opposed to having to go out and sell the building and the community on their booking agents.
"It's only been about two-and-a-half seasons, but could you imagine pulling (the Lougheed Centre) out of the community?" said Beach. "It would be a huge hole, not just to Camrose but to the entire region."
Beach says they see the result with butts in the seat, and the scope of where they are drawing from with about 15 per cent of attendees coming from Edmonton, as far east as the Saskatchewan border, and south of Stettler in 2016.
"Those ticket holders are coming in early, they're having their dinner, they're doing their shopping ... it's just a ripple effect," said Lougheed Centre patron services manager Tanya Pattullo.
This information is an important selling tool for Tourism Camrose.
"It brings people to the community and they're more likely to stay in the hotels and spend their money here," said Tourism Camrose executive director Jennifer Filip. "It brings a different visitor to the community, and it adds to the overall community by having arts and tourism work collaboratively together."
Chasing tourism dollars does not just mean finding a way to attract people to Camrose, it also means developing campaigns and reasons for local people to explore and play in their own back yard. The promotion of the city and region and the arts and culture scene has been a collaborative effort by the many different groups in the city, the business community and different levels of government.
Providing these opportunities has long been a strong point for the Camrose Arts Society, with annual events like Jay Walkers Jamboree in association with the Camrose Chamber of Commerce, Canada Day festivities, Art Walk, Alberta Culture Days, Light up the Night, and the recently resurrected Arts in the Park.
Now, it's about making sure the rest of the province knows about it.
"When travellers are looking for places to go, they are looking for vibrant communities that have cultural opportunities for them to experience and participate in," said Cherry-Lemire. "Camrose is already one of those communities and I think there is huge potential for us to become even more so."