When a grassroots group won their bid to keep the AB-Backus complex open this week, members of the Fort Frances arts community breathed a sigh of relief.
They say “Citizens for Backus-AB” and the proposed arts/community centre to be housed in the AB-Backus complex will only boost the arts community on both sides of the border.
“It’s been seven years of trying to get to save those buildings, years of work and now it is just great,” said Kay Arnold, spokesperson for “Citizens for Backus-AB” after the International Falls School Board awarded the group control of the buildings last Wednesday.
Arnold said the school board has been looking to close these buildings for several years. They closed the buildings to school use June 30 in order to save an estimated $100,000 annually in operation costs.
The board is still ironing out a purchase agreement with the citizens group and hopes to pass it at their next school board meeting Aug. 19.
“This is great news but it is just the start of all the work,” said local arts enthusiast Carole Macintosh.
Macintosh said the fate of Backus would have made a big impact on the Fort Frances Arts community since it hosts everything from the Border Concert Association to concerts from arts groups on both sides of the border.
“We are all relieved to know that it will be open. We were looking at other places and it was getting so desperate,” she said.
Macintosh has watched developments on Backus front for the past three months.
She thinks the grassroots groups plan to turn the complex into an arts community centre complete with space to rent for local artists, inclusion of Koochiching Museum and other businesses can only benefit the economy on both sides of the border.
“It will be a vibrant arts centre for the entire district and it is as important for both countries,” she said.
The director of the Borderland Community Orchestra was also relieved “Citizens for Backus-AB” was able to keep the complex open.
“It opens up a lot of doors for us,” Katherine Williams said. “It’s the biggest facility in the whole district.”
Williams said the possibility of Backus’ closure had many in the orchestra worried.
“It had a lot of them on pin pricks. It’s because the orchestra has grown so large that we are growing out of buildings,” she explained.
Currently churches where they used to perform are no longer suitable for the expanding group. They are also beginning to feel cramped in the Townshend theatre, leaving only Backus as a suitable site for larger concerts.
She added that productions such as last years “Messiah,” which brought together hundreds of local musicians and singers, would require the expansive space of the Backus stage.
“We were confident something was going to happen. There was a lot of support to keep it open,” Williams said.
But the fight to keep Backus open is far from over.
“We felt great now it’s fundraising, fundraising, fundraising,” Arnold noted.
The group has already raised at least $60,000 (U.S.) from private pledges and a benefit concert to put towards keeping the building open, but with an annual operating cost of $100,000 (U.S.) and repairs required on the complex the group has their work cut out for them.
They are already looking at holding another benefit concert at the end of the month or the beginning of September to continue generating funds and are working with Allied Concert Series who supply the Border Concert Association’s productions to plan the event.