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Neil Robbins was named a recipient of a Paul Harris Fellow Award by the Rotary Club of Corner Brook Thursday.
Neil Robbins was named a recipient of a Paul Harris Fellow Award by the Rotary Club of Corner Brook Thursday. - Gary Kean

When Neil Robbins worked at the Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre, he often worked at trying to transform the building’s lobby into a performance space.

He always tried his best, but the space had its inherent limitations for those purposes.

When the idea of creating a dedicated small venue for the performing arts in Corner Brook was born, he took it on like it was his baby.

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For his work on what is now known as the Rotary Arts Centre, Robbins was thanked by the Rotary Club of Corner Brook by being given a Paul Harris Fellow Award during the club’s weekly luncheon Thursday.

The award is usually given to Rotary Club members who have donated $1,000 or more to Rotary International, but clubs sometimes make that donation themselves and give the award to some deserving person who has made outstanding contributions to the community.

Such was the case for Robbins, who attended Thursday’s meeting with other members of the Rotary Arts Club board of directors to witness the singing of a new five-year memorandum of understanding that gives the club naming rights to the arts centre.

The Paul Harris Award was supposed to be a surprise, but Robbins admitted the news had already been leaked to him. That did not at all take away from the honour he felt at being recognized for his work with the centre.

He said making the centre a reality was not just done by him, but a team of dedicated people who shared his enthusiasm for the project.

“It’s really lovely when a plan comes to fruition and things actually work,” he told the Rotarians and guests. “It’s been a pleasure and will continue to be a pleasure.”

In an interview after accepting the award, Robbins talked about how Corner Brook was lacking an arts centre like the one now in the lower level of city hall.

“What we’ve built was what we really needed and wanted,” he said. “It’s been amazing to work through the whole process with all the twists and turns, but I think the very best has happened. The location is wonderful.”

Robbins worked with design engineers to ensure the theatre was all it needed to be for the local arts community. Not only did he spend countless hours making sure the plans were followed properly, he also punched time designing, researching, sourcing, testing and installing much of the technical equipment and furnishings found in the centre.

He continues to be available to help wherever needed, whether for technical issues or using his connections in the theatre world to bring products or artists to the Rotary Arts Centre’s performance stage, art gallery or artist studios.

He has also developed a mentorship program and has trained the centre’s current technical staff person.

“The cost to hire someone to complete all the tasks Neil did would have been astronomical and clearly the Rotary Arts Centre would not be what it is today without him,” said Elaine Huxter, a Rotarian and secretary of the arts centre’s board of directors.

David Smallwood, who chairs the centre’s board, said Robbins is the kind of integral person behind the scenes who deserves to be occasionally thrust into the spotlight they normally shy away from.

“Praise is long overdue,” he said of Robbins and the work he has done for the centre.

The Rotary Arts Centre isn’t the only contribution Robbins was recognized for. He also has volunteered time to help the Rotary Club of Corner Brook’s annual auction and has lent his knowledge and skills to help theatre companies produce their shows.

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