The last thing I want to do is start a power struggle that inadvertently leaves $7 million in city funding untouched on the table. Better to give each other the benefit of the doubt and work together toward creating a new community centre, I wrote in December.
I stand by that, but doubts are best dealt with in the open and, despite Qmunity’s new tone of openness and approachability, I have some concerns that I just can’t shake.
There’s no doubt the information session hosted by Qmunity on Feb 6 marked a turning point for an organization that has previously communicated poorly with the wider community it purports to serve. Remember the time its board unilaterally decided to leave the gay village? Admittedly, the organization was stretched taut on a shoestring budget, paying too much rent for a dilapidated space to serve as many vulnerable community members as possible. But it was practically packing its bags in the middle of the night and was none too pleased with getting caught.
But moments shift and leaders change, and Qmunity’s new board and executive director seem committed to sharing information and inviting people to participate in the process of planning a new centre.
My concern is that the vision they’re asking people to help shape is already too limited. Granted, their shoestring budget hasn’t grown, despite the $7 million. As executive director Dara Parker rightfully points out, creating a space we can’t afford to operate is unsustainable.
We have to be realistic, she says, and I agree. In the decades of on-and-off discussion about creating a community centre, Qmunity has never found much public interest in funding a capital campaign. Unless that changes, our means are limited.
But unless our vision is expansive and inspiring, why would a broad cross-section of our community want to participate in, let alone help fund, the creation of a new gathering space that offers them little reason to visit?
Which brings us back to the question of 10,000 square feet. Qmunity says that’s all we can realistically afford to build and operate. I’ve been trying to envision 10,000 square feet; it’s just a little more than double Qmunity’s current space.
Parker says Qmunity is planning an extensive community consultation on how to divvy up the space, and I believe her. But how big is 10,000 square feet, really? Space for Qmunity’s offices, its library, associated clinic and several multi-purpose rooms of varying size that can host meetings, yoga classes and maybe a small performance? Are we just planning a larger version of Qmunity, with a couple of add-ons spread more comfortably over two floors?
Or can we envision new ways and spaces in which to gather, including somewhat more ambitious if multi-purpose takes on the performance and social spaces so many people have named as key to a community centre they’d like to visit?
Qmunity has been entrusted with anchoring this effort, and I understand why: no other local organization has both the administrative history and stability, and a broad enough mandate, to run it. But to succeed, Qmunity will need to not just consult, but collaborate with other groups.
Imagine a bustling space with multiple groups serving the community, sharing ideas and possibly volunteers; socializing in the café downstairs; browsing the library-archives; meeting for shared-interest groups of all kinds; then staying for a play in the open, spacious atrium that doubles as a gallery, yoga space, basketball court and something I haven’t even thought of.
Maybe we can do all that in 10,000 square feet. Or maybe we need to help Qmunity broaden its vision, give them the means and the reason to do so, then trust them to lead in collaboration.