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Birkmaier finds little support for Joni Mitchell centre Print-ready version

by Rod Nickel
Saskatoon StarPhoenix
April 8, 2005

Supporters of a Joni Mitchell attraction in River Landing are hoping to convince city hall to let the singer come in from the cold.

"We have such an opportunity here," said Coun. Donna Birkmaier. "I'm just afraid we're going to lose it."

Conceived by two private citizens, the Joni Mitchell Discovery Centre would display the singer and artist's mementoes and photographs illustrating her musical history. The centre would be on a block of land also earmarked for a new performance theatre.

But the proposal has received a lukewarm reaction from city politicians. Some say Mitchell herself should endorse the idea before the city pursues it, while others note that Mendel Art Gallery is already naming a cafe after Mitchell as part of its expansion.

In November, Birkmaier began the process of striking a formal city committee to develop the idea. She dropped the motion when some councillors raised concerns about the Mitchell centre. City administration asked her to leave the project with it for study.

After almost five months with no word from administration, Birkmaier asked city manager Phil Richards Monday when she could expect a report. He said he would look into it.

Birkmaier said she was reminded of the idea's potential watching the televised Juno Awards ceremony Sunday.

"There's Burton Cummings being interviewed and he's talking about his building named after him (in Winnipeg). Burton Cummings is a great entertainer but we've got one of the best in the world in Joni Mitchell. It's just a real opportunity."

Mitchell's father, Bill Anderson, said it's not up to his daughter to take the lead on developing the centre.

"She was in favour of just a bench (with a sculpture) where she could sit beside herself," he said. "She doesn't want to interfere. It's not her part or my part to suggest what they should do."

Randy Fernets, director of corporate development for Tourism Saskatoon and a key proponent of the Mitchell centre, said the next move is up to the city.

After some delay, the city has struck a technical committee to negotiate a sale or lease with Persephone Theatre and establish parameters of the larger cultural block. The committee is expected to issue a call for expressions of interest in developing the cultural block by early May.

"We don't want to jump the gun until we know what their vision is," Fernets said.

"Until we see what they want, it's on hold."

Meewasin Valley Authority and Tourism Saskatoon have started a feasibility study into a cultural centre that would include offices for the organizations, a river interpretive centre, public washrooms and the Joni Mitchell Discovery Centre. It's waiting for the city's call for interest to see if their proposal fits with the city's plans.

Mayor Don Atchison calls the Mitchell centre "a good idea" but wonders if it's workable to have two attractions bearing the singer and artist's name.

"I don't know if there's room for both."

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Added to Library on April 12, 2005. (1249)

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