The Lebel Mansion, built in 1910, is an historic building located in Pincher Creek and is operated by the Allied Arts Council of Pincher Creek since 1987. The Mansion is the main cultural and artistic venue for southern Alberta.
The building stands 3 stories high, and notions of universal access were not included in the design at that time of construction. In 2007 efforts were made to obtain funding to render the building accessible for everyone, including the installation of an elevator. The AACPC managed to raise enough money to do some modifications inside the Mansion, and built the structure that would eventually accommodate an elevator. It took a lot of work to accomplish the task and eventually the volunteers ran out of steam… and money.
For many years afterwards, the AACPC concentrated their efforts on building their programming and services offered to the artistic community; an Art Gallery and a Gift Shop. Cruising along, the Mansion eventually settled in a survival mode, constantly in need of changes and renewal. The elevator dream was put aside.
In May 2016, I was asked to help revive that dream. After several meetings with the AACPC and the town Council who owns the building, it was clear that it would take some work and major changes to get support for the project. The main task was to demonstrate the potential of the Mansion.
Over the years, the building had settled in a semi-dormant mood. The AACPC office was in the Gift Shop (not very attractive for shoppers), the inventory low, and for a good majority, over a year old. The public spaces, crowded with all kinds of material accumulated over the years, needed some refreshing.
Over the summer the Gift Shop was free of office, repainted and restocked. By September we had over 40 artists works in consignment versus 12 when we started. By Christmas we had 64 artists represented. The public spaces were cleaned and adorned with memorabilia representing the story of the building. Already the changes were making a difference. The sales increased from an average of $300 per month to $1,500 in the summer months, and reached over $6,000 in November and December. Since January 2017, the average reach is now $2,200 per month.
Some of the main factors for this increase were, to be sure, a more elaborate inventory and also, very important as I learned it during the session offered by the Rozsa Foundation, the service we were offering; welcoming visitors and eventual clients, inviting them to explore the house and making sure they understand its mission and role in serving the artistic community.
After reviving the building, it was time to tackle the programming and promote it. In August 2016, a program director was hired and, like in the past, courses were offered in pottery and visual arts. After designing a new website and reviving the Facebook site of the organization, our program director prepared the fall programming. Eight courses were offered, as it was in the past. Over the next few months we added an extra 16 courses dictated by demand. Since January, over 20 courses were offered and we still have people on waiting lists for more. So, from an average of 10 to 12 courses a year, we now reach over 30 course a year. A lot has to do with social medias and the new image the AACPC is portraying, and the work our new program director has produced. She is the future of the place; young, artistic and dedicated. That helps a lot.
Equipped with all these new changes and success stories, in January 2017 we met with the Town Council to informed them and mostly, to get their support towards our main goal; the installation of an elevator in the Mansion. It went very well and now with the support of the Council, we can look for funding towards the installation of the elevator. We also know that the town will dedicate some financial help to the project.
Sounds like a Cinderella story, and in a way it is. We were fortunate to reinforce this universal access with an event that came in perfect synchronicity with our request for support. We had a group that rented the meeting room for two days and when they arrived the first morning it was obvious that we couldn’t accommodate them due to mobility challenge from their part and accessibility restraint from the Mansion. So we move the meeting to the Town Council Chambers…! The message was more than clear.
Since then we have prepared two proposals for the elevator and a third one is in the making. Hopefully by next year we can achieve universal access.
The Rozsa Foundation played a major role in our success throughout their guidance and informative sessions. Thank you, and be assured that you will be invited to attend the opening of the “Lift @ the Lebel”, hopefully in the next year. Thank you.