GRAND Theatre funding up in the air after split from Theatre Junction

The City of Calgary recently boosted arts funding substantially in the last approved four-year budget

The Grand Theatre. WIKIMEDIA

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It’s been a month since the GRAND and Theatre Junction split and the former’s readying for next week’s High Performance Rodeo. Still, long term funding questions linger for the historic city theatre.

On Dec. 5, The GRAND theatre announced the departure of Theatre Junction from their performance space. The two entities were closely associated and branded together and were collectively referred to as Theatre Junction GRAND.

In a release posted to The GRAND Facebook page at the time, The GRAND’s board chair Duane Hertzer said that the announcement “signals a new chapter for The GRAND focused on embracing a broad new set of creatives looking to engage and delight Calgarians.”

Taking over day-to-day operations and management of The GRAND is newly-appointed CEO Tony McGrath. He explained that the change was a “mutually agreed separation” between departing Artistic Director Mark Lawes and the board of directors.

McGrath will be overseeing programming at The GRAND for 2019 and has already lined up work for the first half of 2019, including a returning presentation partnership with One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo.

McGrath, who said he has no background in arts management, sees his appointment as CEO as an opportunity.

“This is the first time I’ve had a job with real purpose,” McGrath said.

“This is not my theatre, it’s Calgary’s theatre. My job’s to put this back on a stable platform, open the theatre up to all forms of performing art, and find a successor for me in three years or so.”

The financial future of the theatre is also uncertain. In the most recent CRA Registered Charity filing for Theatre Junction Society, government funds of $459,952 accounted for 28 per cent of group’s total revenue.

Net expenses for the same period in the amount of $1,958,306 exceeded net revenue by $316,407, leaving a substantial deficit. Of those expenses, more than half went to staff compensation ($1,031,913), with $176,869 allotted to professional and consulting fees.

A large part of the government funds that Theatre Junction Society reported in 2017 came from the Calgary Arts Development Authority (CADA). Calgary’s city council recently voted to nearly double the agency’s budget from $6.4 million to $11.4 million in 2019.

CADA CEO Patti Pon recognizes the increased responsibility that comes with that use of taxpayer dollars.

“We are here to serve Calgarians. We’re using public dollars to do that,” she said.

Theatre Junction Society was previously receiving funding as a Cornerstone Organization through CADA, part of a four-year cycle of funding that identified organizations vital to the arts sector’s ecology, from 2015-2018.

In 2017, city council approved a one-time $2 million allocation of additional funding specifically for the Cornerstone Organizations. Theatre Junction Society received $95,403 from that allocation, as well as $80,465 in operating grants and $87,488 in emergency resiliency funds from CADA.

Having reached the end of the four-year cycle of Cornerstone Funding, there’s no guarantee The GRAND will receive the same funding as the Theatre Junction Society.

While Pon doesn’t serve on the citizen assessor group that determines grant funding, she said that in regards to all arts organizations, “All of the most recent information about a company will come into play… Overall, we’re going to be asking arts organizations to continue to inform us about how they are helping build our city and build our community.”

McGrath said the financial issues of Theatre Junction Society are a thing of the past.

“At this point in time we have no financial issues,” he said.

“Our payables are all up to date, we’ve met all of our milestones. We’ve got a healthy pipeline of sponsors, we have no challenges with payroll.”

According to the GRAND, Mark Lawes will retain the Theatre Junction name. Lawes could not be reached for comment.

The GRAND will maintain its non-profit status, they said.

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