Saint John multicultural group eyes former synagogue
Multicultural Association wants city to donate space or provide financial help
The Saint John Multicultural Association is asking city council to either donate space in a city-owned building or give the organization funding.
However, Coun. Shirley McAlary says the city already helps two organizations that support multiculturalism.
The request made to common council Monday night led McAlary to suggest combining the three non-profit groups that bill themselves as multicultural.
"We do support a lot of groups," McAlary said. "It would be better, easier for the city, if multicultural was all sort of in one organization.
"We have a limited budget to give to groups, and from one person on council, I’d like to see that we have one big organization."
Melina Iverson, the volunteer executive director of the multicultural association, said the group frequently operates with a budget of less than $2,000 a year, and some years gets no money at all.
The group, which has been around for more than 30 years, also has no dedicated space for its programs. Its mandate includes the celebration of diversity and cultural expression in the city.
"Right now it happens in my bedroom, it happens in my basement, on my personal telephone, in borrowed space, or we have to pay for it," said Iverson.
"And that’s funding and money that … is best to be contributed to the cultural groups that need the funding so desperately to be able to better celebrate their culture and preserve their heritage and to teach others about it."
The city-owned building that was formerly a synagogue would be an excellent location for the group, said Iverson.
"We do need performance space, we need rehearsal space, we need presentation space," Iverson said.
"It would provide accessible facilities, resources, meeting space, rehearsal space, project development space, training space that I need to be able to develop all of our programs and services."
Mix of multicultural groups in city
City council has not yet responded to Iverson's request for assistance.
The city already provides support to two other multicultural groups: PRUDE Inc. and the Saint John Multicultural and Newcomers Resource Centre.
The two organizations share a donated municipal space in the city market.
PRUDE Inc. began as a cultural group for the black community but its website says it is dedicated to all cultural communities, while the Saint John Multicultural and Newcomers Resource Centre helps integrate newcomers into the Saint John area.
Both have a number of paid staff and get funding from a variety of sources.
Iverson said she has approached both organizations about joining with her group with no success.
"Everybody is afraid of change, everybody has fought hard for the funding and support they have, so change isn’t always actively welcomed or encouraged," she said.
"I’m no threat. I’m here to help all of them do better at what they do and deliver services more effectively and efficiently."