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Arts Jasper prepares for 50th upcoming season

How is it that I find myself looking through the 1976 Jasper Junior/Senior High School yearbook instead of focusing on writing about the Arts Jasper Society and its 50th anniversary?
Arts Jasper
Peter McMahon will always have his eyes to the skies, but a part of his heart will stay in Jasper even after his move to the U.S. | Supplied / Peter McMahon

Well, it appears that everything in Jasper is interconnected. What initially began as a quest for information about the society transformed into a narrative exploring the society’s origins.

Much like many endeavors in Jasper, Arts Jasper commenced with a goal to provide opportunities for youth. In the early ‘70s, people like Helen Schwarz and Avice Heckley, along with the principal of the high school, Neil Fenton, were intent on seeing a music program for Jasper students. A talented instructor, Wes Cummings, was sought and brought from Jasper Place Composite High School Edmonton to Jasper. Band rehearsals took place before school in the Activity Centre’s basement, uniting students from Grades 7-12. It became apparent that both the school band and the jazz band (yes, these youth formed a jazz band that competed and performed at paid events) required new instruments.

This is where the Arts Jasper Society stepped in, led by individuals like Helen Schwarz, Avice Heckley, Joyce Butler, The Flanagans, The Ogilvys, Mildred Hughes, Dorothy Peterson, Glenda Cornforth, Pat Wilson, Angela Lemire and many others over the years. Alongside grants and proceeds from various performances they organized, the society successfully raised over $100,000 to purchase new instruments.

How was that possible? As I travelled down the rabbit hole of cultural history, I discovered that the 1970s in Alberta were known as the Lougheed years. During this period, the provincial arts sector thrived, thanks to the establishment of a healthy Department of Culture. From 1971 to 1979, the department’s budget surged from $280,000 to $7.5 million, leading to the creation of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Edmonton Folk Festival, The Fringe and much more.

When talking with some of the founding members of Arts Jasper last week, they fondly recalled one of the first productions brought to town. Before the arena opened, the Cosmopolitan Band of Edmonton, conducted by Harry Pinchin, performed in the high school gym to an estimated crowd of 400. (A little chuckle went around the room when this was remembered as this likely constituted 10 per cent of the town’s population, undoubtedly catching the attention of the local fire chief at the time.)

It's no surprise that news clippings from the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum and Archives described this group of devoted volunteers with words like passion, charm, treat, intimate and unlikely. For five decades, they have enriched Jasper with everything from scholarship programs to symphony to ballet.

The present board of myself, Angela Lemire, Rita Hindle, David Baker and President Anita Robinson would like to thank all who came before.

So, what awaits Jasper audiences in this 50th and final season?

A season pass will get you to all the shows for one price!

To find out you can email them at [email protected] or follow updates on social media. Arts Jasper is on Facebook.

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