November 14, 2022The Rotary Centre for the Arts Celebrates 20 Years

On November 2nd, 2002, the Rotary Centre for the Arts officially opened its doors to the public as the hub for arts and culture in Kelowna. To celebrate our 20th Anniversary we brought together everyone who has made the RCA what it is today, filling our Atrium with our history and beginnings. With drinks, speeches, a raffle, and more, this was truly a night to remember as each of us reflected on the history of the RCA. 

Helping us commemorate 20 amazing years of serving the community were our founders, sponsors, funders, donors, past and present Board members, volunteers, patrons, artists, tenants, City of Kelowna, our Cultural District neighbours, and the RCA staff. We are so thankful to everyone who joined us to celebrate. Our Rotary Centre for the Arts has become a vibrant home away from home where people can come together to celebrate creating and enjoying the arts in the Okanagan.  It wouldn’t be possible without support from people like you.

More than thirty years ago, a visionary group of Okanagan citizens initiated the concept of a new home for visual and performing arts in Kelowna. These people formed the Kelowna Visual and Performing Arts Centre Society (KVPACS) and began collaborating with the City, among others,  to gather support and to initiate a fundraising campaign. The goal was to develop vibrant and dynamic partnerships involving business, local government, and the cultural community to create a major civic facility.

Gayle Stevenson and Debby Helf, two key figures in the creation of the RCA. Well wishes to other RCA founder Michael Griffin.  

Their vision became a reality in 1993 when the Kelowna City council agreed to a feasibility study to be carried out on the old Growers Supply Building. In 1995, Russell Munn donated $200,000 to have the centre’s 326-seat theatre named after his beloved wife, Mary Irwin, and in 1998, Hotson Bakker Architects of Vancouver were chosen to design the community arts centre.

Mary Irwin

In 1999, Senator Fitzpatrick announced partial funding for the restoration of Kelowna’s historic Growers Supply Building, which would serve as the home of the new community arts centre. In 2000 with 90% of the fundraising completed, the City of Kelowna approved the construction of the building. In recognition of the Rotary Clubs of Kelowna’s contribution of $350,000, the community arts centre was officially named the Rotary Centre for the Arts.

In 2001, Kelowna’s City Council authorized the commencement of all phases of construction of the community arts centre and on November 2, 2002, the Community Arts Centre officially opened its doors to the public.

In 2005, an endowment fund was created with the Central Okanagan Foundation providing donors with another way of supporting the RCA. Community organizations, individual donors, and businesses continued to step up over the next few years, donating pianos, equipment, the all-important dollar, and of course volunteer time. Today we have over 65 dedicated volunteers and we are very grateful for their time and contributions.

We are committed to continuing this good work delivering arts and cultural education and experiences for the Kelowna community. We look back at the impact that our Centre has had as a creative hub serving all ages and walks of life. In the past year alone we have seen nearly 200,000 patrons through our doors, have shown art from over 150 local artists, 600 children have attended our art camps, nearly 3,000 youth and adults have taken a class and several thousand patrons have attended a theatre production. Today we have 12 art tenants and a Bistro in our facility that include the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, New Vintage Theatre, Artsco (Arts Council for the Central Okanagan), Theatre Kelowna Society, Potters Addict, Brandy Masch Artist, The Piano Room, The Vocal Studio, The Okanagan Music Collective, Ponderosa Fibre Guild, and now the Roma Nord Bistro, each helping our building come alive. 

“From local galleries to life-size wall murals, a community full of art is a community full of culture. Research has even shown that cities that emphasize art have more civic and social engagement, better child welfare, and even lower poverty rates.” Says Colleen Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, on why art is an integral part of building community. “Arts can help create social and cultural bonds within communities. Arts-based engagement promotes cooperation, awareness of local issues, and the reduction of social isolation, all of which contributes to a shared sense of community pride and identity. Thus, arts and culture can create opportunities for political expression, community dialogue, shared cultural experiences, and civic work. And during the past few challenging years with much isolation from our friends and family, the arts, and arts hubs such as the Rotary Centre, have been imperative in providing safe, accessible and creative spaces during times of isolation when having a creative outlet can not only be enriching, but healing […] I am truly humbled to lead the RCA into the next decade.”

Thank you to the sponsors of our 20th Anniversary party - Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Gizzli Winery, Fitzpatrick Family Vineyard, and Roma Nord Bistro.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you – thank you for coming to the theatre, supporting community programs, taking classes, bringing your children to summer camps, wandering through our galleries, and loving arts and culture for the past 20 years. Here’s to 20 more!

Some of our staff. Top, left to right: Dustin Oppen (Building Operations Manager), Andrew Stauffer (Community and Educational Programming Specialist), Jin Park (Deputy Director/Finance), Chelsea Boan (Community Engagement and Events Coordinator), Maurizio Cattaneo (Graphic Designer). Bottom, left to right: Celine Petricone (Box Office and Executive Assistant), Nicole Benson (Facility Rentals Coordinator), Colleen Fitzpatrick (Executive Director), Laura Lee Schultz (Marketing Manager), Josh Mulloy (Technical Director). Not pictured: Emily Stubbs (Marketing Coordinator). 

The Rotary Centre for the Arts Celebrates 20 Years