Theatre debate: Theatres need a transparent process to guide the future

Pacific Opera Victoria and several other non-profit performing arts organizations are at risk from the same extraordinary rent increases and restricted access to the Royal Theatre that have compelled the Victoria Symphony to move half its programming next season to the University of Victoria.

Arts supporters are dismayed to see the symphony move so many concerts out of downtown and away from the stage where they have performed for more than 75 years — and are concerned for the future of the many non-profit organizations that play a vital role in the cultural life of our community.

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The Royal and McPherson Theatres Society intends that these changes will free up time in its schedule for commercial producers, who will contribute little to the cultural life of Greater Victoria, and whose impact on the region will be negligible compared to local non-profit performing arts organizations.

Pacific Opera alone created $2.8 million of employment income last year. It engaged 175 artists, 98 per cent Canadian and 67 per cent of whom live in the Capital Regional District. Eighty-seven per cent of its $4.4-million budget was spent in the CRD. With accepted multiplier effects, the economic activity of Pacific Opera in the capital region is in excess of $6.5 million annually. Commercial producers with imported artists generate a fraction of this.

Non-profit performing-arts organizations contribute 74 per cent of the Royal Theatre’s revenue, in stark contrast to the claim that the RMTS subsidizes them. Pacific Opera alone spent more than $350,000 at the Royal Theatre last year, including $75,000 in rent. The new rental rates levied on the opera will amount to a 160 per cent increase, an additional expense of $120,000 per year.

The best measure of the health of a community is the vitality of its arts. For almost 40 years, hundreds of thousands of audience members have attended and applauded Pacific Opera Victoria productions. We must work together to ensure a future full of the thrill of discovery, of pride in the high standards of Victoria’s arts community and of the deep satisfaction that engagement with great art can bring.

We are disappointed that since discussions began with the theatres society in the spring of 2017, we have been unable to engage meaningfully with them on the challenges they face and the impact their imposed changes to rental rates and access will have on our organizations. We would like to see negotiations conducted with greater transparency and a joint commitment to best serve our community.

Pacific Opera Victoria encourages municipal councils, the CRD and the theatres society to establish a transparent, collaborative and respectful process to address the sustainability of the Royal Theatre as the premier regional venue for the presentation of local professional performing arts. Together, we must effect the changes that will encourage our mutual efforts to support this community’s cultural experiences.

Ian Rye is CEO, Timothy Vernon is artistic director and Robert Milne is board president of Pacific Opera Victoria.

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