Is our arts centre gravy?

[attach]5154[/attach]The loss of community theatre, if the city sells off venues like Toronto Centre for the Arts, is “an overriding concern,” says the chair of a new taskforce examining arts funding.

The theatres, which rent space to not-for-profit and local theatre groups, have been bleeding money, says chair Gary Crawford, who is also a Scarborough councillor and sits on the centre’s board.

“The one thing I’ve heard from most of the theatre board members and the community is that we have to look at something different, that the status quo is not acceptable.”

Mayor Rob Ford recently created the taskforce to will assess how the city manages its theatre assets, which also include the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts and the Sony Centre for Performing Arts.

Though some say a divestment by the city could ultimately spell closure for the theatres, Crawford said they are looking at every opportunity to keep the theatres alive, civic-operated or not.

Meanwhile, private entrepreneurs are keeping an eye on the situation.

Aubrey Dan, whose Dancap Productions has brought high-profile shows like Jersey Boys to the centre, said the city is taking the necessary measures.

“The fact that they are speaking to the stakeholders, to really take a temperature, to get more insight into their own assets is a very wise thing to do before jumping to conclusion,” he said.

The theatre mogul, who also rents space at other theatre venues, said he is keeping close eye on the situation from the sidelines. Dan hasn’t ruled out the possibility of claiming his own stake in a venue.

“Quite frankly, if the deal is good enough, if it makes sense, maybe we’ll buy the facilities,” he said.

Dancap makes good use of the centre’s main stage, and has rent agreements at the North York venue through to the end of 2012.

But he said a decision of that kind is far off as the taskforce has many options to consider.

Selling the Toronto Centre for the Arts has its own inherent liabilities, Dan notes, as the city currently has a long-term land lease with Ontario Power Generation. The lease agreement, according to Dan, is that the land remains for theatre entertainment purposes.

Similarly, the Sony Centre is a heritage site, which could make it difficult to sell. The St. Lawrence Centre is a popular venue rented by many not-for-profit companies, according to Dan.

“If it were to be sold, I imagine there would be a lot of demonstrations from the not-for-profits,” he said.

The five-member taskforce was assembled after the city reviewed a Creative Capital report and the KPMG Core Service Review report that questioned the viability of city’s continued hand in operating the three live theatres.

The first meeting of the taskforce was to be held after press time.