by Calli Stromner
June 24 marked a significant milestone in the ongoing story of Morinville’s Community Cultural Centre (CCC) and its beleaguered Performance Series. After months of begging and hounding, Council finally received the grim news from administration that the taxpayer-funded series has been bleeding money since January. For the first five months of 2014, the Town has lost at least $26,000 with half of that coming from the Calvin Vollrath show in May.
Vollrath charged the town $21,000 in artist’s fees for his three-day appearance at the CCC. The Town spent another $2,000 to lodge him and six other members of his crew/band at the St. Albert Inn. But his three-night show also included $3,500 in catering fees on opening night. That’s right…the 160 ticket holders who attended the May 23 show were treated to some pretty entertaining fiddling AND a taxpayer-funded meal. Some may argue that the cost of the meal was included in the $40 ticket price, but tickets for the next evening were sold for the same price sans meal.
This stalwart Conservative isn’t here to pick on the talented Mr. Vollrath, though. He is an amazing artist who has honed his craft for many, many decades and is one of the very few performers who can likely say he makes his living from the arts. No, this Conservative’s Sauronic gaze is fixed upon the lack of direction, oversight and accountability applied to the CCC Performance Series.
Two years ago, in an interview with the St. Albert Gazette (July 18, 2012), Cultural Centre Manager Laurie Stalker recapped the inaugural season. According to that article, the 10-show season was successful, even though attendance ranged from 80 to 250 per show and the series was running “in the red”. Even at that juncture, Stalker promised that the cultural centre and the performance series would be financially sustainable and attendance figures would climb. She said this would happen by initiating surveys to gauge interest and preferences, marketing the cultural centre as a conference hub and creating an arts council from the expectation that the community was geared towards “a stronger sense of arts, culture and heritage.”
To date, this correspondent has never seen a survey or the results of a survey specifically geared towards the CCC. One may have taken place and results may have been tabulated, but if they were, they were not made widely available. Likewise, the only results generated by any attempts made to market the facility as a conference destination has only resulted in the creation of the Sturgeon Regional Business Symposium, a one-day conference for local business and government types that is co-sponsored by the Town of Morinville.
The biggest broken promise, however, is the failure to create a local arts council. In its purest and most appropriate form, such a council would provide the link back to the community that the CCC Performance Series desperately needs and currently lacks. It would also provide a semblance of oversight that clearly doesn’t exist between Council and Administration. Again, Council has requested financial information on the Performance Series for the past eight months and has only received a mere five months worth of data. Previous Councils either didn’t care about the financial sustainability of the series or they accepted administration’s previous excuses that the financial information just couldn’t be gleaned from the larger Community Services budget.
With a pre-approved budget from Council, a clear terms of reference, and the appropriate level of authority, a volunteer arts council can deliver a cultural performance series that reflects the desires and values of the community in a more appropriate and representative way than what’s currently happening.
Now more than ever, Morinvillians are demanding more say in how Town programs and services are run. If Council has already allowed for intensive community involvement on hard services such as traffic safety and economic development, and softer services such as recreation, then why not arts and culture?