Archive » Arts and Entertainment

Alton Mill Annex gets tent cover thanks to $138,000 COVID grant

June 30, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

This year, Country singer, Tim Hicks is coming to do a concert at the Alton Mill Arts Centre. There are several great reasons why this is possible.

In reaction to the more than a year of Covid closures, the long-planned idea of putting a cover over the Annex Courtyard at the Alton Mill got a sudden boost toward fruition.

“The gallery was closed [because of Covid],” said Jordan Grant, co-owner of the Mill with his brother, Jeremy. “The artists could have displayed their work or have Covid protocol workshops if there had been a cover over the open space of the Annex. It was Susan Powell [Media manager and more for Headwaters Arts] who thought of applying for a Trillium grant.

“At the time of the application, 100 people could gather outdoors,” he told the Citizen. “We had a concert [with] up to 100 people socially distanced. It was a Jason Wilson concert. That was the genesis of it happening out in the Annex. Luckily,” he remarked, “we had good weather. Had it been raining, it would have had to be cancelled.”

He added a little gloomily, “By the time the grant application was finished, they had closed us down again but the principal stood and there was reason to believe such gatherings would happen again.”

For the details, we referred to Susan Powell, author of the application.

“Initially when Covid hit, The Trillium Foundation set up a Resilient Communities Fund (RCF) for receiving applications,” Ms. Powell started to outline, “the objective of what this fund was looking at and considering, was to look for a way for the community to re-build. The gallery was closed and the outreach we do, this is back in March and April, 2020, when we were thinking how all that had been lost with the months’ closures and how well Headwaters Arts qualified for such a grant.”

Ms. Powell had been involved in other applications and understood the technicalities of such a work, the details and format. She had always been on the outlook for Headwaters to benefit from an appropriate grant.

They sat down on the telephone with Jordan and Margi [Taylor] to put the application together.

“RCF was announced in summer, June 2020, and the deadline was August,” Ms. Powell explained. “Usually, they take four months to decide. So, we found out in December, 2020, that we were successful. By the time we applied, there had been four months of shut down. 

“We were approved for $138,900. Basically, the maximum for any project was $150,000. We accepted estimates from companies to discuss: what’s your project, the components of the project. We need to look at Covid and people’s comfort levels; make an outdoor arts space with a three-season roof. To make that possible, we needed to cost engineers, permits, material, labour – things that were part of the installation. The research was done and a number of companies gave estimates. We hired a firm of engineers to design, keeping in mind the arts component.”

The grant gives a year to complete a project. The project at the Mill is more than 50% done to complete this project.

Ms. Powell’s comment: “We were lucky that this all worked – it was quite exciting to watch it go up.”

Another part of the grant was to purchase a “portable stage system, custom made by a Canadian company; as well as funds to rent a hand washing/sanitizing station outside the tent and personal protection equipment for staff or volunteers; “also to control the flow of traffic.” 

There is support for an improved online presence; equipment for that and PPE.

For the fourth season, the tent panels come down to be cleaned and stored over the winter. A hard top was much more expensive for the extra structure to bear the greater weight of a hard cover.

Jordan Grant told the Citizen, “[The company] covers the first year and then, from that point on, we’ll have to cover that but we’ve been renting tents, which has also been very expensive. The revenue from various functions will cover the cost. They have to rent a boom every time the cover comes off and goes back on.”

The first wedding has already enjoyed in the facility.

“People love it,” he said. “It was always part of our plan.”

Throughout Covid, the grants kept the property open for people to continue to come and enjoy the outdoor art and the trail. Originally, the Grant brothers wanted to enclose the Annex as a complete building but the cost didn’t make sense, when they “had spent a fortune just re-doing the walls.”

In these early days, the formalities of use are strict: booking tickets online to keep track of who is coming to trace possible infection

Still, there are a couple of musical groups testing the acoustics, two groups on July 1, a classical group and another jazz.

“People will not be permitted to enter the Annex at the time but they can hear the music,” said Mr. Grant. “Of course, the musicians are eager to play, even as a rehearsal.”

The Mill has actually got the first formal concert for August 1, 2020, in the likelihood of arriving to “stage three” by July, which might allow 100 people, to attend.

“That will be about the limit for social distancing, depends a bit on what the family groupings are; bigger groups can accommodate more seating.”

This is a real logistical challenge, to arrange the chairs in pairs and, then, re-arrange them otherwise, to suit the audience and is another reason for people booking in advance, to plan the seating.

The good times might start to roll: “We’re also planning a regular concert series on Thursday nights,” said he. “We’re teaming with a music producer. The first concert from him, he’s bringing Tim Hicks, a country music superstar.”

Eventually, theatre style, the Annex should be able to seat “more than 200 people.”

Naturally, everyone is very excited about this new addition to the Alton Mill.

Planning is still problematic with the frequent changes in the dates for the regulations. The original opening for the Mill was July 5 but the mill has been closed; so, it was organized with the vendors to open July 7. Yet, the government moved the date back. Unable to re-think the opening, the Mill is still opening July 7.

Lack of information makes things difficult: stage 3 is next but no one knows how many people will be allowed to come.

“Our tenants have mainly kept it together. Most of our studio tenants have hung in there, mostly because of the government funding,” Jordan Grant commented. “Most of them have sold online; we even have a new tenant, a weaver, Johana Cordero, calls her studio Loom Studio; she’ll be offering private and group lessons, when she can.

“CJ will be offering lessons to fully vaccinated, up to five, maybe.”

Mr. Grant admitted, “The loss of functions has been catastrophic but government funding and grants kept the Mill with utilities and taxes. They made all the difference, plus interest free loans.”

Without any doubt, he assured us all, “We’ll survive and we’ll thrive. We’re looking to our next project, which is a restaurant. We’re bringing in composting toilets and looking how to deal with kitchen waste. At this stage, we’re hoping.”

One thing is sure: “It is quite a morale booster getting the grant.”

For details about bookings and to keep track of what is coming up:

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.