Some would argue we sacrificed function for form and to this point I wouldn’t dispute that.
—Brian Timmerman, executive director for the Exchange District Biz
Arts groups are prepping for another year with a broken Cube.
"The reality is it's been a work in progress since it was built," said Paul Nolin, executive director of Jazz Winnipeg, whose festival is the first major annual user of the Cube. "I've adapted my system and plan to allow for those variables."
The variables Nolin is talking about include a faulty floor and backstage lighting, motion-sensitive colour lighting displays that have never worked, winches that can't properly raise the Cube's walls away from the heads of performers and even the walls themselves - semi-rigid "chainmail" sheets that shed rivets and bolts when technicians attempt to open the stage.
The Cube, designed by Winnipeg's 5468796 architecture for $1.2 million first opened in 2010, and was chained closed by the city last August due to safety concerns. Now, a team led by Winnipeg's urban design manager John Kiernan is trying to assess the cost and timetable of repairs to fix the modernist structure's flaws, with a report due to city council before the end of May.
In the meantime, the City of Winnipeg is holding back payment to the architects and contractors involved in the build, and is considering legal action if the unpaid funds don't cover the full cost of repairs.
A performer at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival sets up in front of the Cube stage. (Leif Norman)
All this leaves the Cube's yearly users - the Exchange District Biz and summer festivals - planning workarounds.
"We don't have to tear down the whole thing and restart all over again, these issues can be fixed," said Brian Timmerman, executive director for the Exchange District Biz.
"But we've been going on with this for four years and we can't go any longer. These issues need to be fixed."
Timmerman still believes in the Cube's potential to be an iconic Winnipeg attraction. One of the features in the plans submitted by 5468796 that helped secure the contract, Timmerman said, was the promise of motion-sensitive lighting displays that would let passersby control the Cube's multicoloured illumination.
While the old stage in Old Market Square only worked as a performance space for a few months, the Cube was supposed to be a living artwork year round.
"If it worked the way it was supposed to work, yeah, it would be very cool," Timmerman said. "A lot of the functionality of the stage was new. The curtain, to the best of our knowledge, it had never been done in North America. Some would argue we sacrificed function for form and to this point I wouldn't dispute that."
The Winnipeg Jazz Festival kicks off on June 13. Nolin said that while everyone including artists has opinions about the Cube, he hasn't been overwhelmed by complaints. Since it first opened, Nolin has rented additional staging to drop in front of the Cube, extended the performance space and moved musicians away from the low-hanging metal curtain.
"Without the extra staging there would be problems, but we're nimble. We work with the limitations and overcome them to put on a great show," he said.
The Cube provides a backdrop of live music at the Fringe Festival. (Leif Norman)
The Fringe Festival, which takes over Old Market Square in the latter half of July, has also taken to renting extra staging, with outdoor jugglers, acrobats and fire manipulators sometimes operating completely clear of the concrete and metal structure.
Fringe Festival executive producer Chuck McEwen said it's up to the city to resolve the Cube's flaws.
"I'm looking forward to it being resolved so it's the best possible state for all the festivals that use it," McEwen said. "We look forward to being back at Old Market Square and the Cube for the 26th annual Fringe."
Timmerman is confident that whatever the city assessors conclude, the shows will still go on.
"At the end of the day, there are going to be no festivals affected by whether the Cube can be open or not," he said. "We do have a plan that we've discussed with the city to raise both curtains and secure them permanently, leaving an open-air stage for the entire season. Once the curtain is in place with safety cables... I have no problems standing under that curtain."
Related:Chronic problems prompt review of the Cube.