Haliburton Highlands Arts Centre Foundation chair Daniel Manley and his board have a big idea for the county.

The group has set out to bring a massive arts centre to better meet the needs of its art groups. The organization formally began in 2018 and achieved charitable status Aug. 1.

The centre would have more seats than the 210 at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion (NLPAP), where many arts groups currently perform in Haliburton. The proposed facility would feature administration space, a dedicated rehearsal space, a complete lobby area and a kitchen.

The price tag is uncertain, but Manley speculated it could cost more than $20 million. Despite the price tag, Manley believes the project can work.

“This can succeed because of the love of performance but also for all the arts up here. If we were able to build a branch for Sir Sandford Fleming (College) here, I think we can support and sustain an arts centre this size,” Manley said. “I think the county will fill it.”

Manley said he has experienced the need for a new facility as the music director for the Highlands Chamber Orchestra and the co-director of the Highlands Wind Symphony. Although the group envisions a new facility as complementary to the NLPAP, Manley said more is necessary.

“It came out of a lot of talks for a number of years. There were people wanting an arts centre, something that would have more options,” Manley said.

Those conversations led to the creation of the foundation, which also features Brent Wootton as director and Wil Andrea as secretary. Manley said they have consulted with other arts groups and there is a lot of interest.

Marci Mandel of Those Other Movies, which organizes the Haliburton International Film Festival, said although the NLPAP is wonderful, it has its limitations.

“Sound quality, screen size, concessions and the inability to stage galas,” Mandel said. “We look forward to the opportunity to work with the new theatre foundation to create another performance space that can take the movie goer’s experience to the next level.”

Highlands Opera Studio general director Valeria Kuinka said her organization supports a new theatre. But she added it will be hard to build and a less expensive, open-air theatre is worth exploring. “

It’s an expensive proposition no matter how you look at it,” she said, adding cottagers would need to be engaged to support the initiative. “I think anything’s possible in Haliburton County and I’m all for dreaming and getting behind a realistic dream.”

Manley said the team plans to utilize grant funding and private donations to pay for it. The group is not relying on municipal funding, though Manley said any help they could offer would be welcome. The process will take time. Manley said the group is aiming to complete feasibility studies.

“We have to determine, what all the requirements would be for the building, what kind of cost that could translate into,” Manley said. “Certainly, going to be a multi-year project.”

But Manley said having charitable status will help get larger donations. He further said the group is planning to expand to include more board members and will begin applying for grants in early 2020.

“This region is going to grow as well,” he said. “We want this building for decades to come.”

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