A theatre commons at Arts Court

fringe-arts-court

Natalie Joy Quesnel and Kevin Waghorn in the Arts Court Theatre

For venue rental information, click here.

I had the chance to sit down recently with Natalie Joy Quesnel and Kevin Waghorn of ithe Ottawa Fringe Festival in their new-ish offices down the hall from the theatre at Arts Court. They took over as managers of the space on January 1 and were eager to share their plans for the facility. As readers will recall, the demise last year of the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation raised concerns in the theatre community about the future of the facility. Happily, the new system seems to be working smoothly so far and theatre bookings for the year are off to a very strong start – which serves as a reminder to how much demand there is for performance space in Ottawa.

Kevin has primary responsibility for looking after the theatre, as well as related Arts Court spaces (the studio next door, as well as the multi-use Library and the Courtroom), which includes taking care of bookings as well as whatever maintenance and upgrades the facilities need. Funding for operations comes from the City as part of its contract with Fringe, but Kevin says that for any major capital upgrades Fringe will have to seek funding in the same manner as any other venue operator. That said, the City was able to provide Fringe with a one-time grant of $11,000, and after an assessment of current deficiencies Fringe decided to invest principally in new sound equipment for the theatre. According to Kevin, this was the best way to make a noticeable improvement for users of the space with the funds available. (Upgrades to lighting equipment, while also necessary, will need significantly greater funding. This is one of the things Fringe is looking at for the future.)

One thing explicitly excluded from the contract between Fringe and the city is the proposed addition to the Arts Court building to be constructed on the Waller Street side of the property. It looks like the new space will be devoted primarily to the Ottawa Art Gallery, with performance, rehearsal and studio space attached to the University of Ottawa theatre department.

From the client’s perspective, using the venue should be a seamless experience. Fringe does not have responsibility for other facilities within the Arts Court building, however, so there could be a few problems that the city managers involved with the venue would have to solve. A current example is the elevator leading to the theatre, which hasn’t been working recently – it’s a city responsibility, but it’s still unavailable to anyone who’s booked the theatre and needs to move large items. It does look like Fringe and the city are working well to fix these kinds of issues as they arise. Similarly, box office services are provided directly by the city, though users are not obliged to use them.

The Festival is about to announce three new full-time hires (general manager, technical director, and marketing and communications coordinator), all of whom will be spending much of their time on Arts Court business as well as the festival. In particular, the marketing coordinator will be tasked with making Arts Court a go-to destination and with helping clients booking the theatre in their own efforts at marketing and media attention. These activities will be directed at both the anglophone and francophone theatre communities.

The contract between Fringe and the city runs for the current calendar year with an option to renew for two years. This will give Fringe the time both to manage the venues on a day-to-day basis and to use their experience to plan for the longer term health of the theatre and its associated spaces. The Festival and the city are also committed to working together to ensure that the venue management and festival management functions run smoothly together.

Over the longer term, Fringe wants to develop Arts Court as a kind of theatre commons – not just a venue to be rented for performances but a place where theatre artists can regularly run into each other, trade “water-cooler chat,” and develop a genuine sense of community. GCTC offers a bit of this in the west end of town, especially during a festival like undercurrents, but the gap downtown is palpable. One way to make this happen that’s under consideration could be a revival of the concept of resident theatre companies. As Kevin pointed out, when the opportunity to manage the Arts Court facilities came up last year, the Fringe realized how well it would mesh with their own strategic vision to help theatre artists with year-round mentorship and support.

Both Kevin and Natalie Joy acknowledge that there’s been a bit of an information gap about Arts Court in recent months. For their part, they wanted to make sure they had everything in order before speaking publicly about their activities, so with the hiring process now almost complete they’re looking forward to making their official announcements by the end of the month and holding a launch event in March. Something to look forward to!

Meanwhile at Arts Court…

It’s been quiet lately on the Arts Court front, but I did want to note that the City of Ottawa has now released its Request for Proposals for managing and operating the theatre space “within the current conditions, appropriate funding levels and mandate.” The term of the contract would be for the calendar year 2013 with an option to renew.

The city’s document notes that in 2011 the Arts Court Theatre was used for a total of 151 days (3,683 hours), hosting 22 productions and 5 festivals and serving audiences “in excess of 10,172.” (I’m not quite sure what that means, exactly. 10,173?)

The deadline for submitting a proposal is 3 pm on Monday, November 19.

Meanwhile, the city is continuing with its plans for the $39-million Arts Court expansion, which is expected to focus largely on new space for the Ottawa Art Gallery. As reported recently in the Ottawa Citizen, there’s talk of new theatre facilities being built by the University of Ottawa for its theatre department as part of the new complex. However, this would presumably be a U of O space to complement its Academic Hall and Léonard Beaulne Studio theatres and as such would not be run by Arts Court, the city, or the future Arts Court Theatre operator.

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.

An Arts Court Update from the City of Ottawa

I know there’s no causal link between my post yesterday on Arts Court and this document – heck, I’m writing this from Ireland so am definitely just a distant observer – but there is clearly a hunger for information about what’s going on at Arts Court. Those involved with the issue at the city appear to understand this and have issued the following document, which I saw after Lynn Cox posted it on the Facebook group I mentioned yesterday.

Arts Court Update

The document certainly goes some way to answering the kinds of questions that are out there, although some of the answers are very plainly of the “Stay tuned – we’ll let you know” variety.

Of note, as Riley Stewart observed in a comment yesterday, is that the City plans to issue a “Request for Proposal from the local not for profit arts sector” in September to run the facility, and there is a nod to the need for consultation with the arts community going forward.

In particular, the City will be hosting “an informal information session” on Friday, September 7 at 10 am in the Arts Court Library.  I expect quite a few people will want to attend, though I imagine some who would like to go may be unable to get off work to do so. I plan to go – what questions would people like to have addressed?

What’s New at Arts Court?

What’s new at Arts Court?

No one seems to know.

It’s been some months since the serious challenges facing the facility became known, as I’ve discussed in an earlier post, and it’s been a month since staff were let go and the Ottawa Arts Court Foundation officially announced its demise.

So now what’s happening?

Um.

It’s been awfully quiet, with no real news about how the facility might be managed in the future or what’s going to happen to the proposed new addition to the facility. Which leads many people to assume that no news is bad news.

The theatre has been meeting its existing commitments through the summer – “My Name is Asher Lev” opens tonight for a run through August 25th – and the City of Ottawa proclaims that it’s available for rental after September 1, though there’s no information about who’s actually managing the place and there’s certainly no news about what’s happening to the capital project.

The arts community continues to ask questions – there’s a Facebook group called the Phoenix Project, for example – and there’s a petition calling on the city to ensure that the facility remain accessible to users.

And there are various rumors with varying degrees of credibility as to potential white knights who might step in to save the day.

So what’s really going on?

Anyone?

Hello?

Upstairs at the MAC

I’m in Belfast for the opening of the Northern Ireland tour of Galatea. The tour has been put together by Sole Purpose Productions from Derry and will be playing in a number of venues across Northern Ireland during August, and thanks to support from the Canada Council I have the opportunity to spend some time with the company and observe the performances.

As I’ve been looking forward to the tour, one question on my mind has been: what would the Belfast venue be like? In a word: fantastic.

The MAC – it stands for Metropolitan Arts Centre, but no one calls it that – is a brand new facility in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter just north of the city centre. The MAC, with its motto of “selecting, creating and mixing up music, theatre, dance and art,” has instantly become an anchor in the neighborhood, which is clearly among the most vibrant in the city. It’s a thoroughly modern six-story building looking out on a little square with two theatre spaces (Downstairs, seating about 350, and Upstairs, seating about 100), as well as three galleries, a dance studio, modern rehearsal rooms, meeting spaces, offices for resident companies and artists, and a café in the lobby that seemed to be throbbing with people throughout the day during my visit.

I couldn’t help but think of Arts Court in Ottawa, of course, which aims to fill a similar function. The facility has lately been a source of some concern in the community and the foundation that ran it has been dissolved by the city, leaving the future management of the building in limbo. If and when the parties concerned solve their issues, I hope that they’ll take a look at what the MAC has done – it’s an inspiring model.

More on Galatea in my next post…

Arts Court News

Anyone involved in the Ottawa theatre scene knows how important Arts Court is – its theatre is a key performance venue and it serves as a home for many members of the community.

In recent weeks it’s been clear that the facility’s health is not at all well. There have been some faint murmurings in the media about this, including a report about a possible merger between the Arts Court Foundation and the Council for the Arts in Ottawa. But very little has been communicated to the community that uses the facility.

The best source of information that I’m aware of at the moment is a Facebook group, where there’s been some discussion and where various documents related to Arts Court have been made available. Yesterday, the following was posted to that group; in the absence of any other information, it seems to be a curious development.

This job posting went live on the City of Ottawa INTERNAL staffing site today. This means that the job is ONLY open to City employees. If you can’t find it on the City site, that is why. Anyway, it has been confirmed. Hope that clears up any confusion.

Position: Coordinator, Arts Court
Competition Number: 2012-IN-EN-50293080-01
Competition posting date: 2012.06.27, closing date: 2012.07.12
City Operations Portfolio, Parks, Recreation & Cultural Srvc Dept., Cultural & Heritage Services Branch
Primary Location: Arts Court, 2 Daly Avenue
1 Continuous FT Position – 35.00 hours/week,
Affiliation: CIPP
Salary: $38.963 to $47.411 per hour
Salary: $70,912.66 to $86,288.02 annually (2011 rates of pay)
Job Summary
The Coordinator, Arts Court is responsible for leading, developing and managing business objectives of a multi-disciplinary
arts facility, overseeing the operational and fiscal management of the theatre’s facilities; leading, developing and managing
partner operated theatre and arts facilities; assisting the Portfolio Manager, Community Arts and Creative Arts Programs, with
programming strategy, artistic direction and theatre operations, including the presentation of local, national and international
artists, community relations and support of local performing arts organizations.
Responsible for the execution, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all legal agreements and contracts associated
with Arts Court key partner service delivery agreements (i.e. leases) and contracted services associated with the operation of
commercial spaces. Acts as the City’s representative and liaison on many concerns and matters related to the operations of
Arts Court.
The Coordinator, Arts Court acts as the spokesperson for Arts Court and liaises and builds relationships with community
partners, government officials, and the private sector and industry associations; develops opportunities for artistic creation,
expression and exhibition and presentation locally; seeks out and proposes possible financial support opportunities from
other levels of government and private sources to fund programs, endowment and capital projects; supports the
implementation of the Cultural Services division’s strategies in relation to Arts Court and the operations of the work unit and
management of financial and human resources.
Education & Experience
Honours Degree in Arts (Theatre, Music, Fine Arts), Arts Administration or a related discipline.
Minimum of four years arts facility management and supervisory experience.
* Experience and formal training combined with demonstrated performance and ability may substitute for stipulated
academic requirements.
Language, Certificates & Licenses
– The successful candidate will be required to complete a Criminal Record
Check to the City of Ottawa’s satisfaction.
– Designated – specific level of language proficiency:
– French oral, reading
– English oral, reading, writing.
– Candidates who do not meet language requirements will be required to
participate in training.
Knowledge, Competencies & Skills
– General management and supervisory principles and practices
– Curatorial principles of arts programming
– Human resources management including labour relations and volunteer
management
– Financial and Risk Management including contractual agreements
– Performing arts disciplines and the presenting industry
– Facility and event management
– Box Office management
– Marketing principles and practices
– Fundraising principles and methods
– Development of policies and procedures
– Theatrical production including technology, procedures and practices
– Laws and legislation pertaining to licensing, privacy, freedom of
information, copyrights and royalties
– Health and safety legislation and practices, including those for the
live performance industry
– Relevant government department, community agencies and associations
including the Department of Canadian Heritage, Canada Council, Ontario
Arts Council, Theatre Ontario, Canadian Arts Presenting Association,
Community Cultural Impresarios
– Program development and evaluation
– Working knowledge of working agreements for performers and technicians
including IATSE, ACTRA, Canadian Actors Equity Association and Musicians
Unions
– Knowledge of corporate, department and branch policies and procedures
– Must possess the training, experience and knowledge to organize the work
and its performance
– Must be familiar with all applicable health and safety legislation, have
knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the
work place, and have knowledge of appropriate actions to be taken in
order to ensure the health and safety of staff in accordance with
applicable legislation and City policies and procedures
– Demonstrated ability to lead and inspire others into action
– A facilitator with excellent presentation skills including public
speaking
– Excellent oral, written and listening skills
– Sound judgment and decision-making skills
– Ethical with strong negotiation and mediation skills
– Skilled advocate
– Ability to build and maintain successful relationships and partnerships
– Ability to identify realistic goals and deliver outcomes
– Delegates effectively and appropriately, setting challenging but
realistic goals and deadlines
– Ability to handle multiple large projects simultaneously and effectively
– Demonstrated success designing and developing programs
– Ability to establish appropriate policies, guidelines and procedures

Thoughts and comments welcome…