There’s never a good time to come to city council with hat in hand asking for funding, but the timing of the Revelstoke Arts Council’s request for $25,000 per year to help support the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre (RPAC) wasn’t ideal.
Council is in the middle of a month-long budget comment period, with the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce and the city budget focus group both advocating for lower taxes and a hard look at the long-term financial sustainability of city operations. The public comment period also means council can’t tag any extra budget items onto the tax bill.
Miriam Manley, the part-time, paid theatre manager at the RPAC, presented the Revelstoke Arts Council’s case for long-term, annual funding of $25,000 from the city for the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre at council’s March 12 meeting.
Manley, who was hired as part-time coordinator of the 275-seat theatre at Revelstoke Secondary School, said the centre had been a success in its first season, but it needed city help to build the Arts Council’s vision for the facility.
“We feel that we can have a wider economic impact in terms of job creation and in terms of spinoff businesses, making links between the arts and business and linking with other partner organizations in the community,” Manley told city council.
In a written submission, Manley said the centre had racked up 3,553 visits in its first six months.
(See the complete written report, including budget, costs, legal agreements and more embedded at the bottom of this story.)
Manley outlined a vision for the centre as a presentation centre and rental facility offering projection services, catering, marketing support, sound and lighting support and more.
“We also feel that the performing arts centre is very important for community cohesion,” Manley said. “It means that the local community can come out and enjoy the performance together, they can often learn something, or have a different kind of experience and it leads to a sense of pride in the community and a real sense of identity as well.”
Council didn’t discuss the request; they’ll have to wait until after Mar. 28 when the budget comment period ends.
In a telephone interview, Revelstoke Mayor David Raven said the request raised concerns.
“You’ve written lots of articles about it,” Raven said. “We’re getting beat up for not being able to reduce taxes and then … here’s more funding requests and incremental service level [rises], so council are going to have to put it in that context.”
Raven said neither himself nor council would be making any decisions until after Mar. 28, but any outcome would likely involve more research, including a look at the background that led up to the request. Who else could fund the theatre? How can all parties involved come together more? They’ll seek answers to the questions.
Raven said the city has been anticipating a funding request, but they’d opted to take a wait-and-see approach. The city was represented on an advisory committee that hashed out the theatre’s operating model; the key players were the Revelstoke School District and the Revelstoke Arts Council.
“Council was anticipating that there would be a pressure from different groups with respect to the new facility, however, given the choice we said, ‘No, let’s just see if these people can fund them on their own;’ if they are able to survive without having to come back to the taxpayers for subsidies.
“It comes back to the old trade-off between revenue and service levels.” Raven added.
Raven also raised another dilemma. The Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre directly competes with the heritage Roxy Theatre. “Do you start supporting other organizations that would be competing with the business community?” he asked. Although the Roxy doesn’t have the stage theatre capabilities of the RPAC, with its recent digital and sound upgrades, the Roxy is arguably a better venue for movies, film festivals and even live digital broadcasts. Yet the RPAC managed to lure the Banff Mountain Film Festival away from the Roxy this year – the reason was largely a cheaper rental price, no doubt due to government-funding through the Neighbourhoods of Learning initiative that funded construction, and ongoing quasi-governmental support from the Columbia Basin Trust and others.
Revelstoke Arts Council chairperson Carol Paladino said the process to hammer out a funding model for the theatre moved quickly. A committee was formed in March of 2012, but up until then, nobody knew how the theatre would operate.
Palladino noted community involvement in deciding where the provincial Neighbourhoods of Learning funding would be spent (the theatre and the acrobats trampoline centre), saying that indicated support in the community.
“How did anybody think it was going to operate?” Palladino asked. “That conversation seemed to not take place until two months before it opened.”
The committee hammered out the existing structure, hiring Manley for a year. The Arts Council emerged as the organization that Manley reports to. Like many arts organizers, part of her job is paying her own salary. Palladino noted their efforts to get funding through the CBT, BC Gaming and several other arts funding streams. “We’re waiting on funds from a variety of places,” she said.
She knows city funding is a tough sell. “I’d be very surprised if the city had any extra money to spare,” she said, adding “The city [and] community agreed to have this fabulous gift.”
Palladino emphasized the Arts Council’s vision for the centre. The first is to grow the centre into a more prominent, regional arts destination that could attract artists, cultural events and other performances. “More, different, bigger,” she said. “In the long run, get to be a town that’s known for really good quality performance,” she said, adding that attracting a big-name performer like Stuart McLean (for example) could draw audiences in from elsewhere.
She also said the Revelstoke Arts Council is acting as an incubator for the centre right now; she envisions the RPAC as a standalone organization.
“At the end of the day I do think that there needs to be something that comes from the city,” Palladino said. “We’re not expecting them to staff it like they staff the arena, or the community centre.”
Palladino also said she understands the Revelstoke Board of Education’s policy of not funding the theatre. In fact, the school district bills the theatre for utilities and other costs.
Revelstoke Theatre Company wants new building for production space
Adding to the financial implications of theatre funding to the city, the Revelstoke Theatre Company is about to proceed to city council for a request to permanently locate to the old Century Vallen building adjacent to the Revelstoke Fire Hall.
Revelstoke Theatre Company Artistic Director and President Anita Hallewas said the theatrical group doesn’t have anywhere to build sets, store wardrobes, rehearse or carry out the day-to-day business of a theatre group. The company has an agreement with the Powder Springs Inn to use the new MacGregor’s Theatre space at the hotel, but that doesn’t include the needed backstage facilities. The RPAC also doesn’t have the necessary backstage space to create sets and host their equipment, so they want to locate to the Century Vallen building.
Hallewas said the plan is largely for a behind-the-scenes workspace and home for the theatre company, but said long-term future plans could include the construction of a small performance space inside the Century Vallen building. She noted the company has a good working relationship with the Powder Springs ownership, but said things could always change and that the theatre company remained essentially homeless.
Hallewas said a recent city initiative to reign in freebies at the Revelstoke Community Centre has led to rental fees that make staging rehearsals at the Revelstoke Community Centre cost-prohibitive.
Prior to the construction of Revelstoke Mountain Resort, the theatre company paid a nominal-fee rental for the Mackenzie Playhouse, an old converted fraternal lodge near the RMR base. The theatre company is hoping for a similar arrangement, such as a $1 per year lease. That request is due before council in the coming weeks.
Back in the resort development halcyon days of 2008, city council opted to fork over a whopping $532,227 for a modest cinder block building that’s sloughing off in one corner. It was sort of a ‘future draft pick’ of property acquisition – at the time, the city wanted to consolidate their ownership of the block containing the fire department and the community centre parking lot. Subsequently, a bid for the Revelstoke Ski Museum failed, so the building is serving as the winter home for the city’s many, many memorial benches and other equipment.
Council still considering request
Mayor Raven said council would likely consider the two theatre-related requests together.
“Is there a role [for the city] here, if any?” Raven asked. “Are there other ways of bringing these groups together to share?”
Theatre is still dry
Some hard egg-nog with the Christmas concert? The RPAC remains an alcohol-free facility. The Revelstoke Board of Education hasn’t placed the alcohol decision on their agenda yet.