Morinville Cultural Centre is more than just performances
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Jul 18, 2012 06:00 am
Laurie Stalker is the perfect cultural services manger – knowledgeable, articulate and unflappable. But even she is hard-pressed to describe the whirlwind debut season of the Morinville Community Cultural Centre.
One of her primary roles was to develop a professional series of acts in different disciplines with artists ranging from roots singer Lizzie Hoyt and children’s entertainer Al Simmons to TorQ Percussion Ensemble, Ballet Kelowna and Alberta Opera Musical Theatre.
Throughout the year, international artists such as Gord Bamford, Loverboy and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra musicians dropped by the 450-seat theatre to shower their magic.
Not only had Stalker pulled together a professional series of 10 fair-sized acts, but the multi-purpose centre also morphed into a gathering spot for local artist groups, school musical performances, club meetings, workshops, seminars, private parties, weddings, fundraising events and even computer classes.
“It’s been really exciting and inspiring to kick-start this chapter in Morinville’s history. It’s really community building. One of our strengths is our arts, culture and heritage and now we have a place to celebrate it. Our aim is to work on building a stronger identity in the community,” said Stalker.
In looking at the audience draw from the professional series, Stalker stated that anywhere from 80 to 250 people attended each event. Fiddle champion and former Morinville son Calvin Vollrath drew 250 plus fans when he celebrated his 20th anniversary.
While these numbers might be disappointing to established theatres, Stalker pointed out that in the last few years there has been a cyclical dip in overall audience attendance in many venues across the Greater Edmonton Region.
“For us it’s still something of an experiment. There are budget constraints of course, but we also offered a variety of artistic genres that would appeal to a broad demographic.”
When pushed to provide a more precise explanation for the low attendance, Stalker said, “We don’t have a track record. There are so many variables about why people don’t attend a show. Do they know about it? Is the price right? Is the date and time right? Is the performance something that interests them? Would they attend if it was on a different day or held at a different venue? There’s so many things happening in our personal lives and then there’s the competition at other theatres.”
Right now Stalker is measuring the centre’s success on more than just tickets sold.
“Our best successes involved our own community groups. When Pro Coro came, we had our own children’s choir sing with a world-class choir and that has to be taken into account. It’s more than a place to entertain. It’s a place to participate.”
This past year has been a huge learning curve for Stalker and her staff, mostly with building-related quirks such as developing a sense of how much supplies to purchase for any given event and learning to operate equipment.
One thing Stalker did not anticipate was providing school space to 30 elementary school students from September to December 2011.
Rather than view it as an inconvenience, Stalker took a positive, proactive approach.
“It was a big move for people in the building. But parents were here every day and it was a great way to market our building. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.”
At this point the centre is running in the red. Stalker’s goal for next year is revenue generation through sponsorship and grants as well as revenue diversification by attracting conferences.
“There will be opportunities for naming the building. There will be opportunities for businesses in town to sponsor season shows.”
And of course, Stalker is striving for higher attendance.
“We’re going to start regular surveys when we launch our website this summer. We are expecting a stronger sense of support in arts, culture and heritage. One way is through the development of an arts council. We’re looking at more exhibits in the gallery, but we don’t have policies in place yet. We hope to start working on them soon.”
Stalker’s vision for the future is to increase ticket sales and put more bums in seats as well as strengthen community development.
“We have three words that sum up our business plan. ‘Alive’ meaning the theatre is full of people. ‘Sustainable’ both financially and environmentally. And ‘Ours’ in that the building is seen by the community as their building.”