Historic Rodman Hall

Historic Rodman Hall

CHAPTER ONE (1960-1975)

Rodman Hall Arts Centre was opened by Dr. A. W. Trueman, Chairman of the Canada Council. On September 21, 1975, after fifteen years of steady growth and increasing influence by the Arts Centre on cultural affairs throughout the Niagara Peninsula, the Honourable J. Hugh Faulkner, Secretary of State, presided at a second opening, this time featuring a major improvement in facilities and the addition of new exhibition space for the visual arts.

Opening ceremonies were preceded by a reception and luncheon at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Court at which guests, in addition to the Secretary of State, included the Hon. Robert Welch, representing the Ontario Government; Chairman John Campbell, Regional Municipality of Niagara; Mayor Joseph Reid, St. Catharines; and Mr. Gilbert Parent, M.P.

Mine was a wonderful surprise on being honoured at the opening by presentation of a wall plaque designating one of the two new galleries in my name and myself as Founder, Rodman Hall Arts Centre.

Since 1959 the St. Catharines and District Arts Council had been managed by Mr. Peter Harris, first as Curator and later as Director. Indicative of the high regard in which our Director is held was his election to membership in the Canadian Art Museum Directors Organization. Under his guidance, and with the support of a succession of Arts Council Presidents, an outstanding record of success has been established.

Individual membership in the Arts Council grew from 90 in 1960 to 900 in 1975. Forty-one companies comprised corporate membership through which business in this area supported Rodman Hall programs.

Art exhibitions at the Centre included retrospective shows of James Morrice, David Milne and Emily Carr. There were many exhibitions of work by Niagara artists and each year saw a display of children's art from the public schools. Sources of other exhibitions were important European, American and Canadian galleries and museums, plus exhibitions originating by the Arts Council. In fifteen years, 236 exhibitions were offered to the public at no charge, and Rodman Hall long since had become the focus of the visual arts in the Niagara area.

Although the establishment of a permanent collection had not been a primary objective, nonetheless, bequests by Messrs. C. Bruce Hill, C. S. Band, Douglas Duncan and Walter Carsen, plus the occasional acquisition through money provided by the President's Fund, resulted, by 1975, in the Arts Council owning 225 works conservatively valued at $100,000.

Lectures by well-known artists and art educators were well attended, as were films on art and archaeology, concerts by small musical groups and theatre for young people. Groups of school children had become regular visitors.

In 1969 the Women's Committee expanded its activities by opening the Art Rental Gallery which shortly thereafter also provided a picture framing service. The Gallery Shop, a success from its beginning, continued to make a substantial annual contribution to operating income. The Women's Committee contributed greatly to the Arts Council success and special tribute is due the ladies who, in succession, have served as President in the period 1960-1975. They were Mesdames Ivy Willmot, Ruth Heitner, Margaret Rose, Mary Proctor, Doris Godwin, Jean Sparrow, Alice Bukowski, Jean Gent and Phillipa Gordon.

Another auxiliary group, but one with no formal connection with the Arts Council, is the President's Fund. Started in 1961, the Fund consists of 40 local business and professional men who each provided the President with $100 yearly to be spent at the President's discretion for the improvement of the Arts Centre. More than $40,000 had been subscribed by 1975. The initial contribution in the campaign to raise money for the 1975 expansion came from the President's Fund.

Leadership in Arts Council affairs was maintained in succession by Messrs. John Guest, John Proctor, Dr. C. R. S. Mackenzie and Richard Court. For many years, we had the benefit of counsel from Mr. M. A. Seymour Q.C., as Honourary Solicitor, and we are fortunate that when Mr. Seymour retired, Mr. H. E. Harris Q.C., willingly assumed this position.

The expansion program cost $343,000, for which we got a new wing, fireproof to National Gallery standards, air conditioning, humidity control, two big new galleries, a workshop, storage space for paintings, a shipping and receiving area, a sculpture court, many improvements to the old building, particularly by way of fire protection, improved parking facilities and some landscaping. Total exhibition space was increased by 4,400 square feet, to a total of 6,460 square feet for the Arts Centre as a whole.

The City Parks and Recreation Department planted the parking area islands and dividers, and maintains the park. The building was designed by architects Macdonald and Zuberec and built by Hope-Loch Construction Limited.

When the Arts Council set out-to establish the Arts Centre, it had little more than $700 in total assets. The 1974-75 audit showed assets of $462,790.83. A 1975 professional appraisal for insurance purposes of Rodman Hall with additions and improvements, plus the 1975 extension, resulted in a valuation for building and contents of $880,000. When the value of our 8.5 acres of land is added, total assets had grown to over $1-million.

The first year's budget of $13,700 grew to $75,000 by 1975. Initially, financial support from public and private sources was about even, but with time, governments assumed an increasing share. Grants for operating account became 45 per cent Ontario Arts Council, 35 per cent City of St. Catharines with the rest obtained through gifts from business and industry and from Arts Centre money-raising endeavours.

Stimulus for the idea of Arts Centre expansion came from an announcement by the Federal Government through the National Museums of Canada that grants would be made available to selected regional art centres, permitting them to so enlarge and improve their facilities that they could exhibit valuable works of art never seen before outside of Ottawa's National Gallery, Montreal or Toronto. Rodman Hall was selected as one of the regional centres and received a Federal grant of $146,000. The Province, through the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, gave $50,000 and we obtained the rest ($147,000) from individual donors, foundations, businesses and Industry. We were able to raise the money we needed, complete the program without overrun, and without debt, and maintain the integrity of the old building.

*Notes for this chapter were prepared by Mrs. Grace Dakin.

 

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