Twice, the Old Fire Hall nearly burnt down when its hose tower caught fire.
Bad luck for a fire station.
The Yukon Arts Centre hopes it has better luck turning the hall into a downtown arts and culture attraction.
The Old Fire Hall launches its summer season this weekend with three days of music and dance at the waterfront property at the end of Main Street.
On Friday, a family dance featuring Joe Loutchan and Friends, of The 98 Hotel fame, will open the weekend.
Saturday is a family day with children’s entertainment in the afternoon and a family dance at night with the 4GOTS.
Lana Rae plays Sunday afternoon and Crash the Car and Father Daughter cap the weekend that night.
This is the beginning of a year-long pilot project to determine if the hall could work as a permanent spot for the arts community.
The hall will be an incubator for local talent and will showcase established acts, said Yukon Arts Centre executive director Al Cushing
“If we can bring in somebody to develop new work and give them a chance for a tech rehearsal and open a show they’ll take on the road, that’s the kind of programming we want to do,” said Cushing.
The new mandate is to grow arts and culture in the Yukon and push new work out on the road, he added.
History, heritage and First Nation culture will also figure prominently in the hall’s programming.
The inaugural Yukon First Nation’s Arts Festival runs June 16 to 18 at the hall.
It will also be used as gallery space while tents outside will host artists plying their trade for bystanders.
Organizers see the hall attracting people to the downtown core and keeping them there.
If 25 kids are in the hall for a dance rehearsal, that’s at least 25 parents downtown buying coffee or having lunch, said Cushing.
“There seems to be some questioning of the value of downtown cultural facilities,” said Cushing.
“In the minds of some people there is the idea that there is competition between cultural facilities and commercial when exactly the reverse is true.
“Almost inevitably, your cultural venues provide a flow of people that are going off to local merchants.”
Last summer was the hall’s first test run as an arts venue.
“It was three and a half months of, ‘Let’s see what happens when we throw open the doors,’” said Kristina Mercs, Old Fire Hall program co-ordinator.
Even with the shortened season, the hall proved successful enough for the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce to support a full-year trial to test its viability.
The arts centre hoped for a winter opening but funding troubles pushed the date to May.
The territory used the hall as a volunteer centre for the 2007 Canada Winter Games.
Dozens of jacks and sockets used for the phone banks still line the walls.
The government renovated the waterfront property, which is located at the end of Main Street, for the 2007 summer arts season.
After the Winter Games, ownership of the hall reverted back to the government, which developed the pilot project with the chamber and the arts centre.
The three hoped the hall would draw people to the waterfront area as part of the downtown’s revitalization.
A late start to the season, limited budget and lack of advertising and promotion impeded the complete success of the hall, but the potential for an important cultural venue remained.
Downtown businesses and the arts and culture community embraced the hall in 2007, and attendance numbers were higher than expected.
In three and a half months, 15,000 walked through the hall’s doors.
So the arts centre set out with the chamber of commence to build a plan for a year-long trial run.
“We’re hoping to show the Old Fire Hall is a worthwhile location,” said Cushing.
“Adding this space to (arts centre) inventory is interesting.”
The Yukon Arts Centre is contracted to manage the hall for a year.
“That’s what the arts centre brings to the Old Fire Hall: to make sure it looks and sounds good,” said Cushing.
The hall is versatile. It can host bands, theatre, galleries, markets and events, such as the chamber’s Business After-hours affairs.
Already, Mercs has the hall booked solid for June and July and August is filling fast.
“People are coming by everyday to check out the space and they always say it’s beautiful,” said Mercs.
Other summer events include the portrait festival and a Yukon government retrospective of the public art collection.
The hall can host bands, but it’s a different atmosphere from the downtown bars, said Mercs.
The music performances are more focused on, but not limited to, acoustic acts, said Mercs.
“If you put a metal band in here they’ll rip your head off,” she said.
The hall won’t compete with convention venues or ballrooms in the hotels because the facilities are attracting different clientele, he added.
The hall will add another venue to handle shows with smaller seating requirements.
Small shows have been turned away from the arts centre and, if the shows weren’t rejected, then it looked weird, said Cushing.
“It’s a shame to put 75 people in a 400-seat venue,” he said.
“If you enter a packed room you feel like this is a happening place, but with same number of people filling half a building, it’s a failure.”
Tickets for each show are $5 at the door and children under 12 get in for free. Evening performances start at 7:30 p.m. and afternoon shows begin at 1 p.m.