April 20, 2014 4:03 pm

Halifax Music Co-op hits the right note in public grant vote

Staff at a Halifax non-profit are still pinching themselves after winning nearly $37,000 in a participatory public vote on the District 7 budget.

Julia Wong/Global News

HALIFAX – Staff at a Halifax non-profit are still pinching themselves after winning nearly $37,000 in a participatory public vote on the District 7 budget.

The Halifax Music Co-op, HMC, is a community music program that provides affordable music lessons to residents. It also aims to make music more accessible and offers an orchestra, wind ensemble and choir program.

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The HMC began four years ago and spent much of that time jumping around between different rental spaces.

In February, staff signed a lease on space in the Brunswick Street Mission.

“To have a dedicated space for our program, it takes such a weight off your shoulders,” said music director John Bogardus. “It’s so wonderful to walk into the same space with the same people where they feel comfortable and you feel comfortable and you have control over the environment.”

But HMC staff admit there were some shortcomings to their newfound space.

“The lights are the old style sodium bulbs. The heating are just four little old electric utilities put right into the wall. They’re old. They don’t work very well,” said executive director Faye Bontje.

“To have lighting where you can see and feel not yellow as these lights do to us, that would be rather nice,” said Bogardus with a smile.

The HMC runs in an operating budget of $60,000 to $70,000. Staff say funding is tight, with revenue coming in the form of concert ticket sales and rental of their building space.

“We’re always struggling. It’s not easy to be a community arts organization,” Bontje said.

As such, the pair is still processing the results of the participatory vote, which allowed members of the public to vote on different community projects.

The organization won $36,462 to upgrade their electrical and heating systems as well as their floors and walls.

“I think it is an incredible show of support from the city, both the officials and the people within the district, to say ‘We care about this. We support this. This is ours and it’s for us’,” said Bogardus.

“It’s extremely exciting and we’re going to put the money to really good use,” Bontje said.

News of the funding is encouraging for HMC members like Krysta Sero, who plays trumpet in the orchestra and sings with the choir.

Sero is a Canadian studies and history student at Dalhousie and said music is an escape for her.

“It’s an outlet for me for stress. I can come here and I can work on this. I can be in a place where I can put that stressful energy into an instrument or singing and that stress isn’t there,” she said.

She describes the HMC as “life-changing” and notes she thinks it is the community who will benefit from their funding.

“It just gives [the HMC] more money to do what they are doing best, which is providing music in the city for all of us. It’s fantastic they got this money,” Sero said.

Staff are welcoming the funding with open arms, especially considering funding for the arts can often be elusive.

“The state of funding for the arts is a difficult thing. We live in a state of recession where it’s more about surviving from day to day and the arts isn’t always seen as a necessity,” said Bogardus.

But it is clearly a necessity for HMC staff, who believe music plays a critical role in the community.

Winning the funds means the world, said Bontje.

“It means we’re going to be able to get the utilities fixed up and other elements fixed up to make it feel more like a community space and less like a concrete box,” she said.

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