Community Cultural Centre series underperforms


by Calli Stromner

Council got its first look at next year’s Community Cultural Centre Performance Series line-up and another snapshot at how this year’s cultural offering has fared at the box office. Administration provided the information as a response to a Council request made during the June 10 meeting.

The Town booked two separate acts in the month of May: Calvin Vollrath, a fiddler who played a three-day set from May 23-25; and La Folia Ensemble, a baroque string quartet which performed a single show on May 31.

Expenses incurred to bring Vollrath to the stage topped $30,000, including $21,000 in artist’s fees and $2,000 in hotel expenses at the St. Albert Inn. Despite ticket sales of 515 over the three days and the addition of $2,344 in revenues from liquor sales, the three-day performance lost a total of $13,789.

la foliaThe La Folia Ensemble performance also cost the Town money as revenue from ticket sales was $126.50, representing only 14 tickets sold. The artist’s fee for La Folia was $2,500, meals for the group cost $42.75 and advertising costs were $157.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Dafoe made the original motion seeking the CCC Performance Series financial information and expressed concern about the loss of revenue. “I appreciate getting the numbers and they must not have been easy for (Administration) to present,” he said. “Eight taxpayer’s property taxes were frittered away for two shows. I’m gobsmacked at that kind of loss. We need to fix this…without a doubt.”

Councillor Barry Turner wanted to know what the numbers mean for next season’s line-up and Council’s role in approving the budget. “One thing that this report brings to bear is that we’re already booking into April,” he said. “I’m a little bit concerned that if we don’t act soon, we’re already going to be looking into later next year so our timeframe to having a budgetary impact is shortening.”

Councillor Rob Ladouceur agreed with his colleagues. “We’re already committed for $10,192 if we cancelled every show we booked. We are now forced to that $42,000 (for the next season). I am blown away that we have lost $15,000-$17,000.” He added that he is also concerned that administration also just recently started tracking this financial information. “The truth is we don’t know what last year’s numbers were. It might have been better attendance, but because we weren’t tracking it, we don’t know.”

The May Performance Series losses of $16,415 combined with the previous CCC Performance Series losses of $10,182 (highlighted in the Town’s First Quarter Report) indicate that the series posted $26,597 in reported losses this year, however since expenses and revenues were not tracked prior to January 2014, the total loss for the 2013/14 performance season is unknown.

The lack of direction for Cultural Centre staff and the absence of an overarching cultural plan for the community were more problematic for Councillor Nicole Boutestein. “We can’t take back the money we’ve lost, but unless we correct that mistake, we are going to sit here for the next ten years, it will be regurgitated over and over again. We need to have administration draft a cultural plan.”

Putnam reiterated the concerns of his Council colleagues, however he cautioned them against reacting hastily. “We can’t operate on this basis, however I do not want us to lose sight of what is viewed as culture,” he argued. “If we stopped hosting shows and offering that art and culture to our citizens, we may never get it back. We need a biz plan and some focus, but I just don’t want to see our citizens lose out on arts and culture.”
While Mayor Lisa Holmes agreed with the Council concerns over loss of revenue, she took exception to suggestions that Council become involved in programming decision. “It is absolutely not our job to say what belongs in that theatre,” she emphasized. “We have to look at what we’re able to provide to our citizens. We need to look at this as looking at the money, not looking at the programming.”

Dafoe subsequently made a motion to have staff put together a workshop to establish Council’s cost recovery expectations for children, family and adult performances hosted by the Town. “If it turns out that some of [the shows that bring social value to the community] have no cost-recovery, so be it, but we cannot hold too many feet to the fire until staff have been given expectations,” he said. Council unanimously approved this motion and a subsequent motion directing administration to review the proposed roster of artists for the 2014/15 performance series and prepare a set of options on how to reduce the overall number of shows.

The current slate of 11 performers for the 2014/15 season includes the popular Missoula Children’s Theatre, local country band Ain’t No Rodeo, Celtic band Cod No More and Canadian icon Jimmy Rankin. It also features a four-man a capella ensemble, Taiko drumming, and a number of family-oriented shows. The artist’s fees for all 11 shows totals $42,134 and does not cover other expenses such as hotel and meals for performers or other fees associated with putting on the show. It also does not include facility, staffing and other overhead costs associated with the Performance Series.

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  1. I do believe that arts and culture is an important part of our community, the grandstanding needs to stop and admin needs to lead. Our mayor Holmes and former deputy mayor Putnam did well by pulling in the reigns Tuesday night. The cost to have this in our community was no more than an average family going out for a cup of coffee and still getting some change back. We have approx. 9000 people in Morinville divide that by the loss and you spent less than a $1.50 per person. The Arts and Culture does draw families into our community and this turns into tax dollars for our town. There is a bigger picture. Work live and play in Morinville.

    Simon Boersma

    • Simon, I think you’re absolutely correct, that arts and culture are important in Morinville. My family and I have enjoyed many events at the cultural center and look forward to continuing to do so. I don’t think that there was any grandstanding. I think that people expect us to ask questions and manage their money properly. I am okay with losing some money on things like recreation, sports, arts and culture so long as we do so in an intelligent manner. I like that our administration talked about the potential to do it differently next year and ask the artist to take the risk by asking for the rental fee and then letting him run the show.

      I am NOT in favor of getting rid of the MCCC, nor am I in favor of getting rid of the programming at the MCCC. I just want to make sure we think about service levels before we do. I’m looking forward to getting together with the rest of Council to establish some service levels and to get on the same page.

      I’d love to hear your opinion if you’d like to chat. Give me a call or send me an email and I’ll be happy to come and chat with you.

  2. When you have a facility open and being staffed by professionals (hopefully) and you then state that “expenses and revenues were not tracked prior to January 2014”, its time to stop, freeze accounts and order in a forensic audit. Correct me if I’m wrong, but someone is in charge of the budget there, someone authorizes expenditures and records revenue. To indicate that nobody was keeping books raises a number of questions on professional ethics and credibility. Perhaps the RCMP could assist with an auditor.

  3. Simon there are not 9,000 taxpayers in town. If you average 3 people per household, divide 9,000 by 3 that would equal approx. 3,166 households paying 90% of the taxes (industry the other 10%). The total loss per year for culture has been approx. $400,000 ($40,000 covered by industry and $360,000 covered by property tax payers). This would equate to approximately $114.00 PER YEAR per taxpayer which is a little more than a cup of coffee. I realize that you were only looking at the $17,000 loss, however as you mentioned, there is a bigger picture from the financial point of view as well as the cultural side.

    • Linda, I appreciate your perspective, our family has always gone out together this why I related this too people not to households.

  4. If Councillor Dafoe is gobsmacked ( what is a smacked gob anyway ) at the operating costs of the cultural centre I can hardly wait to see what he calls his reaction to the operating costs of a pool/multiuse rec facility. I appreciate Dafoes conservative financial views. I hope he also turns his eyes onto the community recreation subsidy. And of course the community subsidy of the library. And…well the list of community subsidies is endless. As Linda so rightfully points out, there is a bigger picture than just the financial point of view. The right balance is a tricky bit of business. Councillor Putnam hits the nail on the head.

    • Lloyd, I am very much pro arts and I’m certainly pro cultural centre and pro entertainment. But it is called Show Business and the larger of those two words is Business. Businesses are designed to make money. If we lose $5,000 a show we cannot make it up in volume by having more shows.

      I accept that some shows will lose a bit of money. For example, kids shows where the ticket price is $10 and we want to encourage family entertainment nights may well lose some revenue. But if you look at the Missoula Children’s Theatre event this past year, you see we lost about $500 plus whatever staff and facility costs were included. But we had 60 children learning about theatre and how a play is learned, rehearsed and produced. And we had 400 plus parents and grandparents get to see the result during two wonderful shows. That to me is an excellent example of how this facility can shine with respect to a performance series.

      Then we have Hotel California, the Eagles tribute act that turned a decent profit and put more than 400 people in the centre. Another successful portion of last year’s performance series.

      My desire to dial some of those shows back next season is not as much about saving a couple grand here and there as it is to give Mr. Fish and his staff the best chance to succeed on a smaller slate of performances.

      I think by having the workshop that we requested we can set some expectations on cost recovery and they can explain to us areas where cost recovery may not be as important because of social benefit. It is my belief that working with Admin to set some expectations will create a win for staff, the centre and the residents of this community who fund the series.

      I do not think (and I am not speaking for the rest on Council here) the problem with the centre’s performance series is one of proper marketing so much as it is the proper market.

      Hotel California = 400 in attendance
      Baroque Orchestra = 14 in attendance

      Frankly, if we are going to lose $2,500 on a baroque ensemble, I’d prefer that we not sell tickets at all and simply invite the public out for a free show, perhaps tie it in with the schools and see where we can partner with them on school curriculum. Invite the parents to bring their children on a Friday night to see on stage what their children learned about Monday to Friday in school. We’d at least save the cost of printing and selling tickets that no one seems interested in buying, and we run the chance of a full house in exchange for our expenses.

      Mr. Fish and his staff have done an excellent job of providing the data that some members of the past Council had been asking for since the facility opened. This Council made it clear during budget deliberations that we wanted those profit and loss figures and we have received them.

      Mr. Boesrsma says Admin should lead. Yes, staff need to be able to do the job they are asked to do. Oh wait, no one has ever told them what the expectations of the performance series is. Tuesday night’s motion has set aside the time to do just that. This is the purpose of the workshop. As I said tuesday night, how can we hold anyone’s feet to the fire on results when Council PAST and PRESENT has yet to set clear expectations.

      We can separate who is right and who is wrong in this – as you have – however, as you know from all your years as mayor – a motion once passed is the decision of all Council. Oddly enough, the motion for the workshop and the motion for looking at potentially trimming the series passed unanimously among those who attended the meeting.

      • Steve. Whoa big fella !!

        Obviously, my explainer and your understander are completely mixed up. I complimented you on your conserative financial views regards the CCC and hoped you would continue to do the same in all areas of culture, recreation etc, with the same financial oversight. Thats it. Period !

        I could not agree more with the path you and the council are taking regards the CCC. Get the facts before the facts get you. Excellent !!

        When the council of the day was determining whether or not to build the CCC we were advised it would take up to 5 years to determine what types of events / attractions / programs would be successful in our community and what types of cultural experiences may or may not work.

        We were also told to watch for the types of programming that would work to build the cultural experience ( maybe at a financial loss but works for community development) and what we could do to build a stronger cultural experience in Morinville. ( I never expected a boraque (sp) ensemble to be successful but …..who knows until you try)

        So in short Steve, I am sorry if my comments offended you and the council. Not my intention at all. My comment was not to disagree with what you specifically are doing but to congratulate you and the council on building upon the oppportunities the CCC provides to our Town.

        It is all good ! Just don’t throw the baby out with the bath water as Councillor Putnam suggests.

  5. My god Lloyd, just admit when you are wrong, the CCC was a massively expensive mistake of your doing.

    Please read the following link:

    The town of Barrhead is currently proceeding with building a pool. Total capital cost is $13.5 million (vs $12 million for your ridiculous cultural center).

    The operational deficit is expected to be $650,000 per year, it also mentions the operational deficit for Barrhead was $359,000. The CCC is costing taxpayers about $400,000 per year.

    So… long story short, for all your dramatic lamentation about us all “drowning in debt” over a pool, you built something equally expensive. The difference is, a pool would have been USED, instead of just sitting there providing minimal benefits.

    • Sean Its not about me or you being wrong or right. You and I simply disagree on the value of the CCC to the community. I’ll use the $400,000 you are quoting as what the CCC is costing the residents of Morinville. The tax revenue is projected at $7.8 Million for the year. So the CCC is costing about 5% of the tax revenue for the Town. The total operational budget revenue for the Town is just a hair under $12M. So the CCC is costing about 3% of the total operating revenue.

      I believe that amount of money to have a wonderful gathering place for the people of Morinville is worth that amount of dollars. You do not. Not wrong…not right. Just a difference of opinion.

      • To both Lloyd AND Sean:

        I have always found it rather intriguing how politicians (and many would-be politicians, for that matter!) quite willingly jump at the chance to spend other people’s money! Always for the most altruistic (you do understand the meaning of that word, I trust?) reasons, of course. I have become extremely jaded over the years, particularly when someone ELSE tries to tell me what I MUST pay for, in the names of “Arts and Culture” or “Recreation”. Perhaps the time has come for these types of issues to be decided by referenda – similar to the manner in which our community decided the photo radar issue.

        I venture to say such moves would cost one hell of a lot less than any so-called expert consultants, while at the same time allowing those who REALLY pay the bills an EFFECTIVE voice in the decision-making process.

      • Lloyd, I agree that there’s the ability to have a difference of opinion on the utility of the CCC. I’ve never attempted to debate your personal utility of the CCC.

        You missed the point though, which is that you told the town that a pool would “drown us all in debt”, and mentioned many times it was something the community could never afford.

        I’ve shown you that the CCC costs the same as a pool, and you are telling me this amount ($400,000) is simply a small drop in the bucket of the bottomless pockets of Morinville taxpayers when looking at the ‘value’ of the CCC (which has cancelled probably 20%+ of the programs my wife and I have registered in due to ‘lack of interest’).

        So I guess I’m confused at the ‘difference of opinion’ you have with yourself. $400,000 per year for a pool will leave us ‘drowning in debt’, but the same $400,000 per year for a cultural center is a small amount not even worth talking about?

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