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Curtain falls on Centre for the Arts Nanaimo's management of theatre

The Centre for the Arts Nanaimo is bowing out of the management of Nanaimo Centre Stage after a failed attempt to win increased city funding.

The board of the Centre for the Arts Nanaimo announced through social media Friday it can no longer manage Nanaimo Centre Stage theatre on Victoria Road and will make its exit after the performance season ends in June.

The move has both politicians and theatre users now considering the future of the performing arts space, from the need to seek new management to the possibility of selling the building.

The arts organization decided to stop managing the theatre after city council opted not to increase its operational grant.

CAN wanted a five-year licence of use and increased contributions for the next three years, including $40,000 in 2014.

Previously the city had committed to $11,350.

According to Camela Tang, president of CAN, the extra dollars would have gone toward a new part-time staff person and increased overhead costs, which were expected to jump without the economies of scale for two buildings.

The arts group had also managed 150 Commercial St. until last January when it was turned over to the Nanaimo Art Gallery.

Tang said her organization warned council members the consequence of “choosing certain options” would be the end of its management, adding she’s beyond disappointed and stunned politicians still chose not to increase their contribution. Instead council offered a three-year licence of use and freezed funding at just over $11,000 until 2017. Funding the year previous had been $6,500.

“I am still in that state of what the hell happened, you know? But we now have to concentrate on having an organized, careful and proper departure,” Tang said, adding she hopes the city continues to keep the theatre open. “It’s still needed in the community. These groups have no other place to go.”

The 100-seat theatre has been the centre of debate for the past year, as council mulled future investment in the city-owned structure.

Coun. Fred Pattje stands behind the decision, saying he still believes the organization could have used the present levels of grant money as a lifeline. He doesn’t believe the city has the dollars to afford the increase requested and said it could have taken away from other worthwhile cultural groups.

Coun. Bill McKay, who voted against both an increase and maintained funding, said he didn’t think the organization was an appropriate line item, but is disappointed the group is walking away without exploring alternative ways to operate the building. Now both councillors say the city could look at a request for proposals for new managers, or divest itself of the property.

“Maybe this will change the entire direction of wherever that building is going,” McKay said.

Those in the arts community are also looking at the future of the theatre, which they said is the only space that’s affordable and profitable for their productions.

Bonnie Catterson, owner/director of Kismet Theatre Academy, said she finds it “incredibly ironic” the city didn’t give the group increased dollars after making arts and culture a pillar of sustainability in its strategic plan and hopes another group comes forward to manage the theatre.

“I think there’s some people in this community very passionate about it, myself included, and [I] feel we will come up with a solution,” Catterson said.

Dean Chadwick, owner of Schmooze Productions, uses Nanaimo Centre Stage and said he’s also in talks with arts groups and politicians about the future of the theatre.

“I think it’s important people know. We don’t know what our journey is going to be at this point for Schmooze, but we know our journey isn’t finished,” he said.

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