A message from our CEO: Alix Goolden Performance Hall

Apr 5, 2024
Capacity crowd at Alix Goolden Performance Hall, 2018.
Since the City of Victoria’s recent purchase of the building that houses Hermann’s Jazz Club, which many music lovers support, letters to the editor are pointing out the contrast with the City’s approach to another music landmark just three blocks away…

Over the past few weeks, several letters have been published in the Times Colonist, expressing various viewpoints regarding the Alix Goolden Performance Hall. You can read some of them here, here, here, and here.

These letters, authored by members of our community including donors, partners in the arts sector, and concerned citizens, emphasize the significance of the hall in our city’s cultural landscape. Given the attention these messages are garnering, I took the opportunity to add our voice and outline certain plans in today’s Times Colonist.

You can read it here or in this news post.

We are grateful to our whole community for recognizing the important role Alix Goolden Performance Hall plays in our city.


Nathan Medd

CEO, Victoria Conservatory of Music & Alix Goolden Performance Hall

Times Colonist- Letter to the Editor

April 5, 2024

Since the City of Victoria’s recent purchase of the building that houses Hermann’s jazz club, which many music lovers support, letters to the editor are pointing out the contrast with the City’s approach to another music landmark just three blocks away.

25 years ago, the historic church campus at Pandora Avenue and Quadra Street relaunched with three live performance spaces and 55 music studios under its new owner, the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Quietly it has become the city’s largest, most diverse and well-used performing arts facility. The largest stage was named for the Conservatory’s founder, Mrs. Alix Goolden, who in 1964 fundraised to create learning opportunities for Island musicians.

It was a visionary commitment to Harris Green, and the birth of a legendary concert hall. Shared equally by local amateurs and global stars, Alix Goolden Performance Hall was characterized as a jewel box by Emmylou Harris – a gorgeous place where music of all genres is played and heard, and the culture of the city is expressed. Critic Mike Devlin has said that its “intimacy makes for sensational concertgoing.”

2020 would have been its busiest year yet, with a spectrum of concerts ranging from romantic-period Liszt to the grunge-period rock band, L7. Now, this facility is being held back from the post-Covid resurgence that audiences and artists are asking for. Disorder on the sidewalk has in fact made it a lens through which people perceive Victoria as a whole.

As the operators of this space, we asked last August for a permit to install new arching, character gates to replace the provisional fence that is currently protecting the building. This reflects our commitment to re-establish the performance hall’s accessways, while respecting its heritage structure and contributing to the aesthetic of the street corner.

The reason for this improvement project, as locals know, is the lack of law and bylaw enforcement in the adjoining public space. Of the many hazards that result, fire exits are being blocked on the City’s side of the property line.

Our permit was granted last week, so we can now finance the new gates, and continue to seek the City’s assurance of safe and clear access in and out. In the meantime, the hall remains open and active. Newly upgraded lighting and audio systems mean performances have never looked or sounded better. Entry has moved to the Conservatory of Music’s entrance on Johnson Street, which was beautifully revitalized and landscaped in 2020.

The access issues on the other side, however, mean that the hall is generally limited to half of its seating capacity. Some producers can accept these conditions, while many others are waiting for officials to act before they will return. The lost revenues and added costs that can be assigned to this issue will soon exceed $1.5 million.

Supporters are asking: is legal action possible to compel the City to maintain physical access to a building from its land? For now, our focus is raising awareness, through countless bylaw complaints and calls to police, of their potential liabilities and risks. We remind them that Alix Goolden Performance Hall is in fact part of a school. We are confident that residents do not accept that its municipality would take such risks.

Of course, new gates and accountability won’t fully resolve the issues. We must respect people as much as we respect our cultural heritage. Last July, we joined Our Place Society in supporting a four-point action plan to help ease suffering on downtown streets. In summary, this involves intensive outreach to understand needs of those on the street, which Our Place took on last fall; a range of housing and sheltering options while removing the street and parks as normalized, sanctioned, or viable housing options; access to a range of physical, mental illness, and addictions services and interventions; and, support for police and the judicial system to incarcerate bad operators and repeat offenders.

We also act as host of monthly meetings of Pandora stakeholders under a 15 year-old Good Neighbour Agreement, which are open to social services and those on the street. It has not been reported before that several key signatories, including Victoria Police and the then-Ministry of Housing and Social Development, no longer participate in this group, with its vision of comfort and safety for all who use the block.

As a social enterprise, the hall drives revenues to subsidize the Victoria Conservatory’s charitable music programs, which include, notably, Canada’s leading clinic for music therapy. A record $300,000 in bursaries and scholarships were distributed to music students last season – a testament to Goolden’s enduring vision. These programs help make up the freelance income of 140 teaching artists and music instructors. The model is central to our local arts ecology.

Once we are in a position to resume hosting concerts at full capacity, we can accelerate plans for heritage restoration and modernization of this beloved music hall, including major upgrades to public and backstage spaces. We can complete the transformation of the site into a performing arts centre for Victoria. With thousands of new neighbours arriving in the coming years through housing projects, Alix Goolden Performance Hall stands to become the cultural heart of a resurgent Harris Green. It can in fact help catalyze this vibrancy.

Thanks to those who continue to enjoy events at the hall, and to the many thousands who are waiting to return, thank you for continuing to speak up.

Nathan Medd

CEO, Victoria Conservatory of Music & Alix Goolden Performance Hall