Meetings about Arts Court

It’s September now and the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation is officially defunct. Its tombstone, for those who care to look, is a sad and lonely logo on the old website at www.artscourt.ca. [Update: the old web address now redirects automatically to the new one.]

So the world moves on, and two public meetings took place this week to offer glimpses into what comes next.

Earlier today, the City of Ottawa staff who are managing the facility on an interim basis through the end of the year hosted a session in the Library at Arts Court. They offered information about what their activities will be for the next few months, including the particulars about things like booking the theatre, as well as a new website (www.artscourtottawa.ca), but declined to discuss any longer term issues, either concerning future management options or the fate of the planned new building. In short, while we now know who to talk to about bookings, we really don’t know where things go from here.

The other news this week was the announcement of a “Request for Expressions of Interest” to manage the facility for the 2013 calendar year. Responses for the REOI are due on October 3 and will “inform and or validate a future Request for Proposal (RFP) phase,” which presumably will need to be completed quickly if the selected manager is to be up and running by January 1. What’s not addressed is what happens after December 31, 2013 – in other words, the long-term options for Arts Court remain as murky as ever. The city has scheduled an information session to discuss the REOI on Thursday, September 13 in the Arts Court Theatre from 5 to 7 pm.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa Fringe Festival, which has been considering putting in a bid to run Arts Court, held a community meeting on Wednesday evening at a local pub to explain its interest and to respond to questions. The format of this meeting was decidedly informal, with those present gathered round tables in the pub as Fringe board members fanned out to chat. Given the general level of uncertainty, confusion and rumor about Arts Court that’s out there, I noted at the outset that having half a dozen separate conversations going on at the same time might not help address the unease, so the Fringe folks allowed for a bit of general Q&A at the outset.

I can only speak to the conversation at the table I was at, which raised a variety of substantive concerns both about the challenges facing Arts Court and the risks surrounding the specifics of the Fringe bid. Some of these include technical issues about the theatre space, needed capital upgrades, the state of the box office systems for ticketing, and the expertise that Fringe can bring to the table in managing the facility in addition to its festival, among others. I’m sorry to say that I found few answers to these kinds of questions beyond an acknowledgement that Fringe would have to address them in either their Expression of Interest or their subsequent Proposal.

It may be that the Fringe folks are reserving their answers for their bid rather than sharing them at the pub, and that the utility of the meeting for them was to help craft that bid based on what they heard. But after talking with some of the others who were there, my sense is that the meeting did little to ease the concerns of those who came out, beyond perhaps the comfort of knowing that Fringe might get to run the facility for a year instead of the city. (No one was aware of other potential bidders, beyond the odd rumor.) I’ve heard that Fringe will be circulating a summary of what they heard and will look forward to reading it.

It seems to me that there remains a crying need for some arena in which all interested parties (including independent artists with no direct formal tie to Arts Court at the moment) can both hear what’s going on and air their concerns, and I’m hopeful after talking to some of the participants at both meetings that something along these lines will be organized. In the interim, the best forum for information seems to be the Phoenix Project on Facebook.

Comments, anyone? I’m very interested to know what might have been discussed at other tables at the Fringe event, as well as others’ perspectives on these two meetings and what needs to happen next.

3 thoughts on “Meetings about Arts Court

  1. Thanks for the summary Lawrence. It is a bit unfortunate that the Fringe was not able to provide more definitive answers to your questions. We had set the evening up with a bit of a different stated purpose than you may have been anticipating and we had only received the REOI the day before so were unable to have a lot of details hammered out.
    Having said that, our main point was to start a dialogue with the community and to inform them that this was not an endeavour we were pursuing lightly. Our entire Board is committed to putting together a proposal that puts the community and the Fringe in the best position possible. That meeting was by no means the last chance to speak with us about our plans and we welcome any individuals to contact us and set up meetings where we may be able to address concerns.

  2. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment and for providing your summary of the session the other evening.

    I know that all of you have put a lot of time and thought into this and have gone to great lengths to be available to anyone who has questions or concerns. Everyone here wants to see Arts Court thrive, and at the moment, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it looks like the Fringe is the group most able to make that happen. It follows, then, that everyone here feels they have a stake in making sure that the process moves forward successfully – but as you point out, this means a dialogue, which to my mind this has to mean more communication in *both* directions.

    I know simply from seeing how many people are reading about Arts Court on my blog that there is a great hunger for solid information, so I invite you and your colleagues to make sure that you not only continue to solicit our input but that you share back with us as well. Obviously your first priority in the coming weeks is to put together as solid a response to the REOI as possible, but the best way to ensure solid community support will be to continue to keep us all in the loop as well.

  3. it wes great to attend two meetings this week about the fate of Arts Court, and I hope for more. More meetings? Yep, bring ’em on! We need to get over grievances about past difficulties at Arts Court and mobilize immediately or we’ll be missing out on the opportunity to maintain the current 120 seat theatre and save a home for theatre in the proposed new building. At the moment, I believe that the Fringe provides the community’s best hope for keeping Arts Court Theatre available and active. Let’s wish them luck and see what they come up with in their planning docs. (And if other organizations have ideas, great!)

    As well as supporting whatever entity is brave enough to step forward and run Arts Court, we as local producers need to step up our use of the theatre space(s). I suspect that the City will be looking very closely at how we will use those spaces – how often, how imaginatively – and how effectively we will be at reaching our public. If they don’t see that we are busy, full, and needing more space, we won’t be seeing a theatre as part of the planning for the new building. There are reasons why the current theatre was under-used in the past, but we are looking at different management, and – fingers crossed – better practices in the future.

    We as a community of theatre workers are growing and getting better at what we do, but we have lots of challenges that we share with our colleagues across the country. Space is a huge challenge – we can’t afford to lose an square foot of what we have and we need to look ahead to what we need as we grow. So let’s have meetings, work constructively on some very obvious problems, network, support, speak out, rent, produce, promote like crazy and put Arts Court on the map. And work together. We can do it. Other cities have.