Gander Arts and Culture Centre - Renaming Ceremony

The Honourable Premier Danny Williams

December 17, 2008

We are here this afternoon to honour the first Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, the late Honourable Joseph R. Smallwood, and to acknowledge his significant contributions to the preservation and promotion of arts and culture in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I am particularly pleased to welcome members of Premier Smallwood’s family here today.

Ladies and gentlemen, the preservation and promotion of our culture is central to our social and economic success. It defines us as a people. It provides us with a sense of pride - a sense of self - and we must never take it for granted

The first regional Arts and Culture Centre was opened in St. John’s in 1967, during Premier Smallwood’s tenure, to coincide with Canada’s Centennial Year.

It was Premier Smallwood’s vision that there would be a network of Arts and Centres throughout the province. Centres were subsequently built – both during his administration and afterwards – in Corner Brook, Stephenville, Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander, and Labrador City.

The history of the Gander Arts and Culture Centre began, in earnest, in 1971, with the opening of a 25-metre swimming pool – part of a multi-phased plan for an “Arts and Recreation Centre” as it was then called. In 1974, construction began on the theatre complex and, in 1977, the Gander Arts and Culture Centre was officially opened.

For more than 30 years, this regional Arts and Culture Centre has served many central Newfoundland communities including, of course, Gambo – Premier Smallwood’s birthplace.

As a Provincial Government, we felt it was important to acknowledge Premier Smallwood’s contribution to this province’s cultural development – and also to use this opportunity to highlight other regional facilities and attractions which acknowledge the Smallwood legacy – such as the Smallwood Interpretation Centre in Gambo.

Today marks a new milestone in the history of the Gander Arts and Culture Centre.

And it is a proud and rich history indeed. This Arts and Culture Centre has proven fertile ground for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to develop their own talents as artists - actors, musicians, dancers, directors, playwrights, visual artists, and the skilled people behind the scenes who help bring the creative vision to life. It has been a venue for area residents to witness, and celebrate, their own unique culture and heritage.

This stage has showcased some of the best and brightest performers in this province – from Harry Hibbs, Figgy Duff, Joan Morrissey, the Wonderful Grand Band and the Mummers Troup to Great Big Sea, Rick Mercer, Rising Tide Theatre, Ron Hynes and Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers. But, just as importantly, the Gander Arts and Culture Centre – and all six of our regional Arts and Culture Centres – have also introduced countless thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to national and international artists, and to different forms of art they might otherwise never have seen.

For example, for many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, our Arts and Culture Centres have provided a first-time opportunity to witness the performance of an orchestra, an opera, or a ballet. They have allowed us to see, and appreciate various forms of visual art, and artistic expression. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Canadian Opera Company, the National Arts Centre Orchestra and many more national companies have traditionally made Gander a regular stop on their cross country tours.

National and international stars who have also graced this stage include Maureen Forrester, Valdy, Dan Hill, Ronnie Hawkins, Liona Boyd, Rita MacNeil, Tom Cochrane, Michael Burgess, and the late, great Stan Rogers, just to name a few.

Exposure to these performing artists, and the opportunity to see the works of various visual artists at the art gallery, have inspired many of our own residents to pursue these artistic disciplines as careers, or simply to experience, embrace, and appreciate them as part of a fuller life experience.

I am proud to say that our current Provincial Government recognizes the value of our cultural industries – and has made a major philosophicaland financial commitment to the arts, culture and heritage sectors. In the past five years, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation alone has more than doubled its annual investment in cultural and heritage – from $11.3M to $27.2M.

There has been another $10M invested through Cultural Connections in the Department of Education and project-specific funding provided through the Department of Innovation Trade and Rural Development for arts, culture and heritage-related endevours designed to further diversify the provincial economy.

In 2006, we released a cultural strategy: Creative Newfoundland and Labrador – The Blueprint for Development and Investment in Culture, which committed $17.6M in new funding to the culture and heritage sectors over a three-year period. This strategy has strengthened our arts, culture and heritage sectors, provided increased, annualized funding to artists and arts/heritage organizations, and provided much-needed improvements to our arts and cultural infrastructure. We know that we, as a government, are committed to furthering the arts and cultural sectors in Newfoundland and Labrador.

But as time goes by, it is easy to lose sight of the people and events along the way which have enabled us to retain our own distinct culture, while also allowing it to evolve. We could just as easily have lost it all. Without a doubt, former Premier Joseph R. Smallwood’s vision for this province and its people played a significant role in preserving and developing our culture – and the aspects of that culture which remain unique and valuable to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and others, today.

As I noted earlier, it was Premier Smallwood who opened the first regional Arts and Culture Centre in St. John’s in 1967. It was his vision that there would be a network of regional Arts and Culture Centres which would foster, nurture and support all forms of artistic expression.

Premier Smallwood was also the driving force behind the establishment of Memorial University in 1949 – and it was his vision that this institution would become the centre of cultural education and development in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Smallwood administration also founded an extension service at Memorial University with resident specialists in arts, drama and music – and developed an outreach program aimed at bringing that expertise into rural communities.

In fact, during his 22 years as Premier, his administration promoted cultural development in every respect. For example, in 1951, the Smallwood administration instituted the Arts and Letters Awards – which continue to be an important source of recognition and encouragement for emerging and established visual artists and writers. His administration also established a film company to produce documentaries, instructional films, travelogues, filmstrips and slides for use in schools, so that all young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would be more aware of their history and culture - and take pride in it.

Between 1926 and 1984, Premier Smallwood produced 21 books – including his final – and perhaps his most important - contribution to the preservation of our history and culture, the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. In the words of Smallwood’s biographer, Richard Gwyn: “His imperishable achievement was to give his people the self-confidence to ‘seek human excellence’.

Premier Smallwood’s memorial can be found in the astonishing productivity of Newfoundland’s artists on paper, on canvas, on film, in song and play and novel, and in sculpture, painting and photography. Today, Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the most vibrant cultural communities in the country – if not the most vibrant. The multitude of artistic talent this province has produced from a relatively small population is nothing short of extraordinary.

And that is why we are here today – to honour a man who played a significant role in ensuring that, almost 60 years after joining the Canadian federation, we still have a unique culture to celebrate and to share with the world..

So please join me, ladies and gentlemen, in welcoming Clara Russell (Premier Smallwood’s daughter) to help me unveil the commemorate plaque and to officially christen this Arts and Culture Centre the Joseph R. Smallwood Arts and Culture Centre.