Updated to include comments from MLA LInda Larson and Board Chair Marieze Tarr.
The loss of a high school is bad enough, but some members of the local arts community fear Osoyoos may lose a community theatre as well if Osoyoos Secondary School is closed as scheduled in June.
That was the concern expressed to Spencer Chandra Herbert, the provincial Opposition Critic for Arts, Culture, Tourism, Film and TV. The NDP member for Vancouver – West End sat down with members of the Osoyoos & District Arts Council this morning.
“I wanted to come up here, get a greater sense of what’s going on and see if I could lend a hand because I wouldn’t want to see a community not only lose its high school, but also lose its theatre, Mr. Chandra Herbert said after the meeting.
“Those are two big blows.”
The Okanagan Similkameen School District Board of Trustees voted last week to close the secondary school at the end of June. The district’s plan is to bus students to South Okanagan Secondary School in Oliver.
Lost in a consultation that focused on students was the future status of the Osoyoos Community Theatre, which is part of the OSS campus.
Although maintained and administered by the school district, the theatre was built in the late 1970s in large part through a $150,000 contribution by the Town of Osoyoos and Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
Ownership and control of the property is something that would be resolved once the OSS closing is final, said Board Chair Marieze Tarr.
“I know that there are many questions about the future use of the facility and our Board will and want to address these questions as soon as possible after the final school closure bylaw is passed,” she said.
“I cannot comment further at this early date and the Board will communicate with our user groups first as soon as we have met and discussed this.”
The adjacent nature of the secondary school and adjoining theatre isn’t lost on Tina Begg, chair of the Osoyoos & District Arts Council Concert Series.
She has a performance scheduled for next November in the facility and wonders if the show will go on if the school is closed.
“I have one show that I booked last year for November. And I’ve got another contract sitting waiting and I’ve told them I won’t sign it until I can find out a bit more (about the school closing),” she said.
“At our last concert, I had them sing Auld Lang Syne because i said this might be the last concert we have here.”
Ms. Begg says she may have another facility in the community that would be appropriate for the November show.
“If my back was against the wall and nothing works out, I wouldn’t sign any more contracts but I would do that concert and then we would have to think about if we would do any more,” she added.
The theatre is also the Osoyoos home for the South Okanagan Players. The community theatre group has scheduled a three-night run of Sleeping Indoors in May for the Osoyoos Theatre.
Unlike the Concert Series, the troupe has another facility it can access; it also performs at the Frank Venables Theatre in Oliver.
When asked to comment on the building’s future use, MLA Linda Larson appeared to say that was something the Town of Osoyoos would resolve.
“I personally do not have expectations for this nearly 40-year-old building,” she replied in an email to the Daily News.
“I am sure the Town of Osoyoos will be looking at any and all creative ideas to re-purpose the building for the benefit of the Arts Council and any other users.”
Mr. Chandra Herbert says fears for future of the facility should never have materialized — and wouldn’t if the riding’s Liberal MLA were doing her job.
“I’m surprised the MLA didn’t bring the cultural community together here and say, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to make sure that community theatre stays,’ ” he said.
“I hope she can come to the table with Osoyoos, with the Region, and say, ‘We’re going to make sure a theatre’s here. Maybe we can even find ways to improve it.’ ”
He’ll take the community’s message back to Victoria, sharing with the Legislature the impact the school closing will have on an arts community built largely on volunteer effort.
“Other provinces invest way more money in arts and culture than BC does,” he said. “Here we rely on volunteers. The tiny amount of money the BC government puts into this arts council — $6,000 a year — what they’re able to produce, it’s remarkable.”