The Merrickville United Arts Centre: A perfect partnership

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The Merrickville United Church has a new partner, and he is dedicated to breathing life into the church that has been struggling to survive. Mark Sine began his career in event management in 1979 at a Canadian music festival in Toronto. A young man at the time, he was brought in to be a gopher, running errands and doing menial tasks. Even so, he thrived in the environment and knew that it was something he wanted to dedicate his career to. “I was hooked,” he says.

Since his first foray into the world of event management, Mark has planned events all over North America, with most of his career spent in Los Angeles. He has had a hand in planning many high-profile events, concerts and parties for clients in LA, under the company name Hey Right Now. “A lot of entertainers I worked for also lived in the area,” Mark said, explaining that he made his home in Bel Air. “My career in LA was fantastic.”

Recently Mark decided to scale back his work in LA and return to Ottawa, where his partner has a job with the government. He heard about the Merrickville United Church and their search for a partner through a contact he had in Merrickville. “We were far into negotiations with the Merrickville Artist Guild,” says Matt Gallinger, of the Merrickville United Church. “After that fell apart, I was introduced to Mark.”

Mark says that, as a lifelong supporter of the United Church, he was immediately excited at the prospect of helping the church stay open. “The space is fantastic,” he says. “To me, being inside the church makes me feel at home.”

The goal of the partnership is to allow the Church to continue to hold services and be a place of worship. When it is not being used by the congregation, it will double as the Merrickville United Arts Centre (MUAC), a venue for just about anything.

Significant renovations have turned the altar into a stage and flattened out the floor, so there is enough room for everything, from a solo performer to a 60-piece orchestra. The permanent semi-circle stage that now holds the removable pulpit in the centre, can also be added to, creating a stage big enough for any theatrical production. Lights have been added, a new sound system installed, and the pews have been spaced out to allow for more leg room. They are even installing a special projection system that will allow them to transform the ceiling into anything they want, depending on the event being held there.

“This is not about Mark coming in and trying to fill the venue with outside talent,” Matt says. “There will be tons of room for community events and groups.”

Matt says he his really enjoying working with Mark, and doesn’t feel like he is compromising at all when it comes to the use of the church. Mark has been very careful to keep the integrity of the church intact, keeping in mind its age and history. The pulpit, which was donated in memory of a former minister’s son who died in WW2, has been preserved, and even old chairs that were manufactured at the foundry in Merrickville are going to be used. “It’s better in many ways,” Matt says. “We’re still here and that is specifically part of the goal.”

Mark wants to make sure residents know that the MUAC is there for the community’s use and benefit. He looks forward to hosting everything from weddings, to concerts and theatre, to fundraisers and private parties of up to 250 people in the main area. The venue is fully licensed, and alcohol will be available for purchase at many of their events.

The MUAC has already booked several events for this spring and summer, including a “Hypnosis Diego Comedy Show & Cabaret”, followed by a performance by Keith Glass on May 18, The Merrickville Motorcycle Show on June 24, and Sean McCann, of Great Big Sea, on July 7. The MUAC will also be involved in the re-enactment events over the May long weekend, hosting the Liberation Swing Dance with a live big band on Saturday and a church service on Sunday.

It is clear that both Mark and Matt are very happy with their partnership and are looking forward to the next chapter in the church’s history. “There is a ton more excitement and energy [in the congregation],” Matt says. For more information on the MUAC, upcoming events and venue rental visit www.merrickvilluac.com.

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