Creative minds: Gavin Smith, musician and Chewstick founder and dancer Malachai Simons were both involved in the Appreciative Inquiry process for the  Performing Arts Project. *Photos by Ann Spurling
Creative minds: Gavin Smith, musician and Chewstick founder and dancer Malachai Simons were both involved in the Appreciative Inquiry process for the Performing Arts Project. *Photos by Ann Spurling

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 23: Can you imagine a performing arts centre that nurtures local talent, gives people the opportunity to work alongside international artists and encourages cultural collaborations that transcend racial and social barriers?

Could there be an institution that provides world-class acoustics and performances while remaining affordable to all?

These are some of the many visions of Bermuda’s cultural community involved in a major consultation process about what is expected out of the proposed performing arts centre.


The idea of a centre in Bermuda is not something that materialised overnight — it is a long held dream that has been attempted many times over the years. Dick Butterfield, chairman of The Centre Ltd, which is spearheading the project, has been personally involved in two previous attempts but this time, he is certain of success.

The key reason for his optimism is the Appreciative Inquiry, or AI method, that is under way to ensure the island’s entire creative community is not only involved, but instrumental in the way it is designed, built, located and how it will eventually serve the community as a whole. Not only does it glean the knowledge and experience of the community, it also builds on its positive contributions rather than dwelling on the negative.

Butterfield said: “It is about learning the root causes of success not the root causes of failure according to (professor) David Cooperrider who developed the method. This is one of the key reasons we are going to succeed this time.”

More than 500 people, including actors, musicians, producers and technicians have been involved in Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the AI process. Accessibility is one of the most important qualities the centre should possess according to findings so far.

Tiffany Paynter, who has facilitated the Phase 2 round table discussions, explained: “We have found people want accessibility in terms of affordability as well as the centre being centrally located.

“People have said that they do not want an aura of elitism around the place — that creates the separation when things are designed for any particular socio-economic or racial group.

“We have been asked to intentionally inspire new collaborations, they want it in our philosophy and our programming.

“Through the AI process, people are meeting people they have heard of but have never met. This method creates this arch of optimism and when people answer the questions it carries them forward to understanding how collaborations happen.”


One requirement that has repeatedly arisen throughout the discussions is professional standard acoustics. The Centre is currently negotiating a contract with one of the leading global acousticians and theatre consultant firms — Artec which has been commissioned for prestigious venues including the Sala Sao Paulo, Lucerne Culture Centre and L’Auditorium de Dijon.

Butterfield said: “As our mission statement says — fine acoustics is key. It’s the case, in the world of creating theatres and performing arts centres, it is often a ‘by the way’ thing and they are acoustical disasters. The Roy Thomson Hall was built for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and it took years to make it acoustically acceptable. We are negotiating a contract with Artec who are probably the world’s most successful acousticians. They are also very experienced theatre and concert hall consultants.”

Whether the centre should provide an educational element was an issue that turned up regularly in discussions. 

 “It’s entirely possible, even likely, that there will be an outreach facility,” said Butterfield.”It is not going to be running a school but it will provide an outreach of some sort,” Butterfield said. “This project will also be creating spaces which students and technicians can use. We are going to need amateur technicians to train because it will be fully equipped. One thing that comes up constantly in these roundtable discussions is rehearsal spaces — every body is crying out for it — it is entirely possible and probable that this facility will provide that.”

Phase 1 focused on interviews with individuals while Phase 2 revolved around a series of round table discussions. This phase is now coming to a close and the key findings are due by the end of December.

Phase 3, which deals with the design of the centre and the fundraising, is due to begin next year.