By stephen petrick
Proponents of the Minden Hills Cultural Center are proposing a new governance model for the center, which would have its foundation board overseeing day-to-day management instead of municipal staff.
The proposal was presented to a delegation at the April 28 Minden Hills council meeting, which was held virtually, and it follows a period in which the city’s management of the center has suffered. the subject of careful scrutiny.
The center has been curator-free since late February, when Laurie Carmount quit working there. City officials haven’t said whether his departure was voluntary or a layoff, but, regardless, the news has led to renewed calls for the municipality to better run the much-loved taxpayer-funded center. , known for attracting tourists and being a source of community pride.
The center includes the Agnes Jamieson Gallery, Minden Hills Museum, Heritage Village and Nature’s Place.
While the delegation had the potential to create a tense meeting — there are obvious frictions between the center’s most ardent supporters and city officials — the council accepted the delegation, and Mayor Brent Devolin called the staff of the city to file a report with their thoughts on the proposal. This report would likely be delivered at the May 26 board meeting.
“What you’ve presented is a bit off the beaten path, from my perspective and knowledge,” Devolin said. “Having said that, I’m not necessarily against that kind of stuff.”
The delegation was led by Jack Brezina, who called the 176 Bobcaygeon Rd. establishment a community “gem” and alluded to a history of tension over how the center was governed.
“Over the years, the center has not seen difficult times, but each time, to its credit, the guiding beliefs that underpin the center and the determination of the community and center staff, it has emerged to continue. The most recent turmoil has prompted the revitalized Minden Hills Cultural Center Foundation and the community at large to rush to the center’s defense.
The Minden Hills Cultural Center Board of Trustees – currently made up of Chairman Neil Briggs, Secretary David Rea, Trustees Susan Murray, Sue Tiffin, Emily Stonehouse and (non-voting Advisory Committee representative) Mary Hamilton – is traditionally in responsible for raising funds for the center but not managing day-to-day operations.
Currently, management of the center falls under the portfolio of Minden Hills Director of Community Services, Craig Belfry, who later reports to Administrative Director Trisha McKibbin.
A slide presentation given to the board suggested that the fact that the foundation oversees staff is not unique and falls within the laws that dictate how Ontario museums should be governed.
The proposed new structure would be similar to the systems governing the Haliburton County Public Library or the Rails End Gallery and Arts Center by Dysart et al.
“This model is a win-win,” Briggs said in a speech that followed Brezina’s speech. He said it would reduce the responsibilities of municipal staff and make the center eligible for provincial and federal funding.
“We don’t think the status quo is viable,” Briggs added.
The proposal appeared to be aimed at putting pressure on Devolin. The slideshow included a page referencing a quote attributed to Devolin in local media, during his last mayoral campaign.
He quoted Devolin as saying “Minden Hills Council should re-engage many of the original stakeholders” associated with the center and was “confident that collectively we can continue to develop the vision that the Minden Hills Cultural Center represents in our city”.
Devolin watched the April 28 presentation calmly, with little expression. But, in the end, he said, “it has the potential for a good start and dialogue.” He proposed to Briggs and Brezina that “the spirit of where you want to go doesn’t necessarily conflict with the advice”.