Calgary invests $2.5M for new accessible arts building after roof collapse destroyed old centre

Three years after a roof collapse at a Calgary arena displaced Canada's largest organization for artists with disabilities, the centre has found a new home.

'We're all breathing a huge sigh of relief,' says NaAC CEO Jung-Suk Ryu

Jung-Suk Ryu, CEO of the National accessArts Centre, stands in front of the group's future home. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Three years after a roof collapse at a Calgary arena displaced Canada's largest organization for artists with disabilities, the centre has found a new home.

National accessArts Centre (NaAC), formerly known as the Indefinite Arts Centre, will receive $2.5 million from the city to upgrade the old Scouts Canada building, located at 2140 Brownsea Drive N.W. 

"We're all breathing a huge sigh of relief," said CEO Jung-Suk Ryu. "We know where our home is going to be, and that's a huge relief to our community of artists."

In February 2018, the roof of the Fairview Arena collapsed following a heavy snowstorm. The centre, located in the adjacent community hall, was given just one hour's notice that the building was structurally unsafe — the roof came down exactly one hour after centre staff and participants vacated the building.

The past three years have been a challenging journey to finding a new permanent space, Ryu said.

"To be blunt, there were times where I wanted to give up … it's been a challenge to keep our positivity up, but look where we're at today."

Ryu said the new home will be an opportunity to reimagine NaAC's offerings — it will soon be offering dance and music programs as well as visual arts. It's also more centrally located than the previous space.

A rendering shows the arts centre's future home. (National accessArts Centre)

The renovations will focus on improving access to the building. The group eventually hopes to obtain further provincial and federal funding to expand the space and add a performing arts venue.

Built in 1966, the expressionist Scout building is listed as a city historic resource. It was designed by architect Jack Long, who also built the city's Centennial Planetarium which is now home to the Contemporary Calgary art gallery.

"The biggest challenge was accessibility, because right now half of our artists couldn't get through the front door," Ryu said.

Meg Ohsada has found more opportunities to express her creativity through the National accessArts Centre's programs, her mom says. (Submitted by Noriko Ohsada)

Noriko Ohsada's daughter Meg is a painter and dancer — she's been participating in NaAC lessons over Zoom the past year, so the news of a permanent space is something to look forward to.

"She would be excited to actually dance with other people … we can't wait," she said. 

Meg, who is 26 and has Down syndrome, has won medals at the Special Olympics and performed all over the world as a figure skater. NaAC has given Meg opportunities to express her creativity, her mom said, and provided tools to help her realize her dreams.

WATCH | Meet figure skater Meg Ohsada

Meet figure skater Meg Ohsada

CBC News Calgary

3 years ago
Meet figure skater Meg Ohsada 2:14

"Staff working really, really hard to make this happen is appreciated, and it's necessary," Ohsada said.

Construction will begin on the building this spring, with NaAC expected to take occupancy late this year or early 2022.

With files from Helen Pike


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