KNOX NEXT STAGE
THE DREAM BECOMES A REALITY!
The recent purchase agreement between Knox Presbyterian Church and Urbanistyc (a BMI Group company), and the willingness to partner with the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective (SACC), signals the dream of an exceptional performance space in the church sanctuary could be coming true. It also represents an enormous opportunity for the Stratford community and its local arts and cultural groups to build on the foundation of a well-established location that will affect all that Stratford’s downtown offers. The Knox Next Stage project can now proceed with the design and development of a purpose-built performance space in one of Stratford’s most historic buildings.
Knox Presbyterian Church, a downtown Stratford anchor at the corner of Ontario and Waterloo streets, has a long association with the arts. Countless Canadian performers have taken the stage there, as have orchestras, choirs, theatre troupes, and even the occasional (and much-loved) pipe band. As the congregation has developed a new vision for its role in this historic building, the dream of a state-of-the-art performance space now seems closer to becoming a reality. The unique architectural features of Knox will make the renovated sanctuary a landmark for Stratford and a place to celebrate artistic excellence.
Over the past five years, and especially as the region looks forward to recovery after the pandemic, the SACC has continued to focus on the needs of community-based arts groups. Its top priority is the creation of a performing arts space that responds to solid evidence that local groups and individual artists require an affordable, state-of-the-art facility with stage and technical amenities that bring their art to life. The goal is to support Stratford’s arts groups so they can regain and expand their artistic presence in the region.
Through the work of the Knox Next Stage project, the SACC’s vision for the space, supported by Urbanistyc, has evolved and deepened. It now includes the following priorities:
Showcase local arts and culture: Programs in all artistic genres will bring artistic and economic activity to downtown Stratford on a year-round basis.
High-quality programming and performances: Stratford and regional audiences will enjoy a wide range of programming choices.
People-focused: The Knox space will provide a place for people from all demographic groups to gather in celebration of the arts and culture.
Community-building: As the region moves out of the pandemic, arts and cultural activities will be a catalyst to reinvigorate people’s lives.
Arts and culture incubator: Artistic risks can be taken. Ideas, interpretations and innovations can be tested at an affordable cost.
Destination landmark: By repurposing a well-known Stratford downtown landmark as a high-value destination, economic activity in surrounding businesses and the downtown core will be stimulated.
As Stratford’s downtown artistic home, the new performing arts space will be “the place to be” for the best community-based arts and culture experiences. Families will find a comfortable space for theatre, music, dance, puppetry....and much more. Couples and friends can enjoy a leisurely meal at one of Stratford’s excellent restaurants, then stroll to Knox to be entertained, enlightened, surprised, and challenged. People of all ages and abilities will enjoy an accessible space where audience amenities (such as accessible washroom facilities, air conditioning and heating) have been thoughtfully constructed.
>>“Stratford is known world-wide as a leader for high-standard professional arts and culture, yet we lack a community-based, affordable, state-of-the-art performance space where local organizations and individual artists can test their artistic wings,” says Ron Dodson, SACC Co-chair.
>>Chris Leberg, SACC Co-chair, says “This new space will offer a flexible and affordable option for every kind of artistic expression, something we believe local residents and visitors will enjoy and in which they will participate.”
Revisioning, repurposing and renovating the space will proceed in phases with a goal of commencing limited use by local groups before the end of 2022. Significant consultation with the new owner, the SACC, outside experts, and the Knox congregation is required. The issues of naming, day-to-day operations, and marketing are being studied. The SACC is also moving forward on funding, governance and charitable status.
As the Knox Next Stage project proceeds, the community’s views and input are always welcome. SACC is working hard to keep local elected officials, Stratford residents and arts organizations plugged in and engaged. Comments can be directed to KnoxNextStage@gmail.com