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TimBen Boydston: Please don’t dissolve the dream

The Arts

Posted: January 26, 2009 9:09 p.m.
Updated: January 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

In 1999, dreams were coming true all over Santa Clarita.

The folks running College of the Canyons had long dreamed of a real theater to better accommodate the needs of its fine arts students.

Local arts groups dreamed of a beautiful venue in which to produce performances for our community.

Even the city of Santa Clarita was in on the dream, looking for a Performing Arts Center to attract touring groups to our increasingly popular town.

When the state decided to provide enough funding for COC to build a 450-seat auditorium, someone at the city had a grand idea to have the city kick in $2.4 million to increase the number of seats to 950.

This would allow the Santa Clarita Valley to have a "performing arts center" without the city coming up with $17 million to build its own.

With the endorsement of local arts groups, the City Council voted to spend the money, COC agreed to partner, and the Performing Arts Center left dreamland and became a reality on the hilly Valencia campus of COC.

The potential problems of managing a facility to serve the needs of the college, the city and the community groups were foreseen with great prescience by the editorial board of The Signal.

In June 1999 it was suggested that a formal "multi-agency task force" be established to "guarantee that the performing arts center will be best developed - and subsequently scheduled - to address the various community needs in the most equitable manner possible."

Unfortunately, the task force was never established. What was established was a Memorandum of Understanding - or MOU - between the city and COC; the MOU directs the partnership.

The MOU states, "The intent of the parties is to enjoy a long term relationship."

With the MOU firmly in place, it was a win-win-win situation. A literal dream come true! COC students had access to an outstanding facility.

Superb performances were put on at family-affordable prices by such groups as the Santa Clarita Ballet Company, the Santa Clarita Master Choral, the Santa Clarita Symphony, the SCV Concert Band, the ESCAPE Children's Theatre, Canyon Theatre Guild, and the Santa Clarita Regional Theatre.

Santa Clarita began making an appearance on the schedules of commercial touring artists.

Why, then, did the city manager make a recommendation to dissolve the MOU (apparently trying to fly under the radar by listing it as a consent item) at the City Council meeting today?

How can Mayor Frank Ferry call this dissolution a win-win situation (The Signal, Jan. 25, 2009) after he voted for a "long term relationship," but the PAC has been open only four years?

Follow the money. The MOU also states that "after the first two years of operation, the district and city will devise a mechanism of establishing and financing an equipment replacement fund. ..."

The college has asked, but the city won't fulfill its commitment.

Since the college and the community groups will not be able to rely upon the agreement the city made to help share these costs, the college has indicated it will have to book more "professional" groups, which will pay higher fees than the city-sponsored community groups.

Already, as the facility has become better known, its popularity has increased; the numbers of calendar dates available to local arts groups has continued to shrink.

Herein lies the problem.

Without a guaranteed percentage of dates for local use of the facility as spelled out in the MOU, the dates will go to the highest bidder, not the local arts organizations.

Would taxpayers have supported this expenditure had they known it would turn out like this?

One begins to think former Signal City Editor Chris Dickerson might have been a prophet as he wrote "The Tale of the Grandiose Arts Center," published in June 1999 - a cautionary parable that talked about the possible shattering of the community vision of the PAC in the future.

He wrote that officials " ... were elated as they watched hills of silver and gold grow to mountains of riches from renting out the arts center."

And that " ... it did the other community arts groups no bloody good at all. They continued to stand in the rain and gaze at the shining, cultural arts center on the hill."

Don't let our dream become this nightmare. City Council, please don't throw us out in the rain. Don't dissolve the MOU.

TimBen Boydston is executive director of the Canyon Theatre Guild and former Santa Clarita City Council member. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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