close
close

Arts centre problems reflect village struggles – Winnipeg Free Press

Arts centre problems reflect village struggles – Winnipeg Free Press
Arts centre problems reflect village struggles – Winnipeg Free Press

Opinion

When acclaimed 20th-century American actress and drama teacher Stella Adler described the theater as “the place where people come to see the truth about life and the social situation,” she was undoubtedly referring to the art performed on its stage.

But recent events in Winnipeg suggest that sentiment may also extend to what happens outside the theatre walls. In particular, the new safety measures announced last week by the Gas Station Arts Centre are a reflection of life and the deteriorating social situation in the city’s once-thriving Osborne Village.

Management at the beloved performance space, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, unveiled plans to tear up the courtyard and redesign the entrance in an effort to create a safer, more customer-friendly entry space. According to Nick Kowalchuk, executive director of GSAC, the move is in response to increased violence and drug use in the area immediately outside the facility.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS files

The existing courtyard of the Gas Station Arts Centre.

“What we want to do is set up our courtyard for our customers,” Kowalchuk said. “What I want is for a customer to feel comfortable.”

While the statement is a succinct summary of the practical intent of the plan, it can also be seen as a broader commentary on the ongoing problems facing the gas station and the surrounding area.

A 2023 report from the Winnipeg Police Service found that crime in Osborne Village was up 33 per cent from the previous year; violent crime statistics were even more disheartening, up 50 per cent. Recent reported incidents include a stabbing at a nearby pharmacy last fall and a serious assault on River Avenue this spring.

Crime and concerns about the safety of customers and employees were among the reasons why major coffee chain Starbucks permanently closed its popular location on the corner of River and Osborne, across from the GSAC.

That the theater’s management would find it necessary to reconfigure the space outside the entrance is neither surprising nor unreasonable given the current circumstances. While the GSAC has always shown a commitment to the area it is located in and the people who live and work there, the simple fact is that the gas station is a business that cannot survive if its patrons feel uncomfortable attending events there.

Poverty, homelessness and addiction, and the crime that accompanies all three, are issues the city and the province have struggled with immensely in recent decades. Anecdotal observations suggest that conditions have worsened, both here and in other urban environments on the continent, since the pandemic.