I wrote this article for The Record’s editorial page. It was published today, Saturday. Following is the unchanged, original version:
Here we go again, squaring off about the Centre.
And before entering the fray, I would say that during a journalism career followed by recent years as a city councillor, I have always appreciated high-quality, critical writing.
Some of that work was crafted by Joel Rubinoff, an award-winning entertainment writer at this newspaper. Which explains why I was so disappointed by the content of his shallow rant in Saturday’s Record.
The article made careless use of the facts as it criticized councillors and staff for recent handling of events at Kitchener’s financially-troubled Centre in the Square.
On Monday, council will confirm an earlier finance-committee decision that accepted a future mandate for the Centre. The mandate was one of two prepared by consultants providing long-term direction to the Centre’s board. It balances fiscal responsibility with greater efforts to nurture the local arts-culture community
Criticizing that mandate, Rubinoff ignored the opinions of 8,000 local people (3,500 from Kitchener) who answered a survey about what they want to see at the Centre. The response was one of the largest received on any municipal issue.
Those 8,000 survey responses show Kitchener residents care passionately about what the Centre means to them.
Consultants combined public responses with expert opinions from about 65 community leaders including arts organizations, Centre board members, city councillors, centre renters, the symphony, K-W Art Gallery and other performing-arts leaders including Raffi Armenian.
The opinions helped shape two suggested Centre mandates and council chose the one most supportive of local arts-culture while strengthening commercial use of the theatre.
Instead of considering public reactions, Rubinoff and his headline writer quoted two unidentified readers unhappy with council’s decision. Which is strange because, in the name of quality journalism, I always thought The Record didn’t use or quote unidentified sources in stories and headlines.
Rubinoff, going both ways at once, said he admires both the symphony and choir as “world-class jewels.”
He then suggests that shows appealing to young, “hip” audiences will be squeezed out by symphony/choir performances attended by the “tweed-jacket-and-cravat crowd.”
I would say that, nowadays, you’re as likely to see high-techie T-shirts and jeans than tweed and cravats at current concerts as our excellent symphony and choir increase their appeal to younger audiences.
Rubinoff is convinced nothing meaningful will be done to re-arrange weekend booking dates at the centre that are currently occupied by the symphony — an issue that negatively impacts Centre profits.
To which I would say the Centre and symphony have been instructed by council to adjust performance dates for 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons. The new schedule has to be delivered to council by June 15.
Rubinoff then whines that the Centre should not subsidize community arts-culture groups over commercial acts and says such groups will never fill the 2,000-seat hall.
My response is that while the Centre mandate supported by council provides additional support for local arts and culture, there’s no suggestion such groups are expected to fill thousands of seats. There’s also no reason smaller groups can’t make better and less expensive use of the Centre box office or facilities like the under-utilized Studio space.
Rubinoff argues the Centre administration has turned finances around with successful commercial shows. In fact, there have been recent commercial ventures that bombed.
He says unprofitable arts-culture “niche” groups remain in control at the Centre and this will result in Kitchener taxpayers “paying through the nose.”
I argue that many economic reports show creative people live and want to live in our most creative communities. One way to attract economic vibrancy, business activity (and jobs) to Kitchener is to invest in a thriving arts-culture community.
The Centre and spinoff activities are an important economic contributor and magnet for the Region. That’s why the City of Waterloo and regional government should pay more toward its upkeep.
Rubinoff says he has witnessed dysfunctional power brokers run the the Centre for 35 years and points out the theatre’s surprise $7-million maintenance deficit.
To which I would say that, while he’s seen such lack of financial diligence in past decades, I don’t recall him writing about the fact the city turned a blind eye to such maintenance despite the fact we have had mayors and councillors sitting on the Centre’s board of directors.
Now we are faced with the huge consequences of such neglect, I have no hesitation about providing necessary money to help the Centre regain its former glory but I don’t want to see that happen at the expense of the symphony, choir and art gallery.
I’m confident that, in future years, council’s decision will safeguard the Centre — a magnificent facility owned by Kitchener taxpayers — while providing overdue support for our arts-culture community.
When that happens, I hope Rubinoff makes the effort to report the fact.