Darren Ollinger New Black Centre

So what’s going on? Why is New Black closing?

The easiest answer is that it’s time. It’s a perfect time actually. Our five-year lease is up at the end of this month. This building is for sale. So those were two great reasons why.

And just tough to keep it going?

Well it’s never been easy to keep it going. I’m kind of over it. It’s a grind. There’s a lot of things: it’s expensive to run it doesn’t bring in much money.

This is run as a not-for-profit right?

Yeah well just because it’s a non-profit doesn’t make it any easier. You still have to pay the rent. With most people the misconception of a not-for-profit is pretty funny.

Was there anybody that was interested in keeping it going?

A couple of people have asked about it but then I kind of show them the business model and the numbers and stuff like that and it’s not really attractive.

What are you doing? There’s a funeral?

Yeah on Sunday we’re going to do a funeral. It’s a fitting way to end something.

What’s going to happen?

Mike McLeod from the Mad Cowboys — New Black has a ton of lineage with them so I thought it would be fitting for him to do a little solo performance play us out. Come say goodbye to some walls. That’s it really. Dress in semi-formal black and play some Skid Row love ballads and just have fun with it. I guess to celebrate something that was pretty cool for the last five years.

Has it only been five years?

It feels like 40.

Five years is a pretty good run for an all-ages venue.

For all-ages I think we’re officially the longest running all-ages hall in the history of Calgary. I haven’t really come across one in North America that’s been around this long.

Especially one that’s specifically an all-ages venue rather than a hall or somewhere that only lasts until the landlord gets pissed off.

Well that’s it. As much as this place has been appreciated and loved by a lot of people the bigger picture isn’t cared about.

And you guys have had to struggle pretty hard including fights with the city and permitting.

Yeah it’s pretty wild. I thought when Nenshi was elected there would be this dream pasture of arts because that’s all he cared about. In hindsight there was more love from the Bronconnier regime than Nenshi. We’ve run a ton of city programs out of here. We’ve had a lot of support from people in the city that are entrenched in the scene. But in the grand scheme of things you would have thought the high brass politicians would have been all over us — some youth-positive friendly environment. All they care about is sports and building more ice rinks for kids.

Why did you start this? What was your motivation?

I guess in a silly way I thought it was a needed good idea. And it really was — this town needs it. The proof’s in the pudding with how many kids have thrived by having a venue to play a proper rock concert that isn’t their lunch room in their junior high or their community hall. It’s cool. It’s a place for the kids to find themselves and establish who they are as human beings. We have the nice balance of having some cred with those kids but also the parents were always aware of what we were doing in here do you know what I mean? So it wasn’t just a clubhouse for kids to come find trouble.

Was it worth it?

In the grand scheme of things I believe it’s worth it I believe this idea’s worth it. But out of my own pocket? No.

What are you going to do now?

I have two other jobs so that’s fine. I have my own kids to take care of. I’m going to stay home a little bit and I’m kind of looking forward to that aspect of it too. It’s a grind when you’re here doing it for the love of it when you should probably be somewhere else. There’s nothing to take home to justify it too. Every month when we’re $100 short on the rent or $200 short on the rent or you’ve got to pay a bill and we don’t have any money it just comes out of my pocket. If that’s what not-for-profit is fuck it.

How many people are on your board?

Five. I told them and they were like “yeah that makes sense.” They get it. If it wasn’t for me turning over stones and finding people to support this — like the Ship & Anchor is a great example. They gave me scads of money to keep the lights on in this place. I scored a Telus grant a couple of years ago. In the infancy Zak Pashak was a huge supporter of this. He was one of the original board members too. But that’s just over and above. It has nothing to do with the daily operations of the place. I don’t want this to come across as braggadocious but if it wasn’t for a person like me who had the go to find that money and do those deals and stuff like that to get those programs on the go and that stuff then this place would have faltered years ago. It’s not self-sustaining from kids paying cover charges.