Arts Seen – week of Dec 5 2013

In a city already short of performance space the arts community has been dealt another blow. Dancers’ Studio West (DSW) announced last week that it is moving out of the “black box” theatre space it has been leasing in Sunalta for more than 20 years which it also rented out to other arts groups.

In the fall the company had advertised on the Calgary Arts Development website for partners to share the space which accommodates an audience of 80 people with a 35-foot by 35-foot performance space as well as a lobby box office bar and dressing rooms. Then last week DSW issued a media release stating that although many organizations are desperate for rehearsal and performance space they don’t have enough money to commit to using the space in an ongoing way. So instead of focusing its energy and maintaining the facility DSW plans to rent rehearsal and performance space next season.

For Jenny Repond Peters artistic director of the Soulocentric Performing Arts Society the news is cause for concern. “It’s so unfortunate we’re losing that space” she says adding that her heart goes out to DSW. “It’s a beautiful space to dance in.”

Peters says she feels like the dance and theatre community can’t take another loss. She explains that of the smaller spaces that are affordable and available DSW was one of the few left with enough space to move in and a proper floor for dancing.

“I don’t know where dancers are going to be” she says. “I’m at a loss now as to what dance space is going to be available.”

Peters has cancelled the annual Soulocentric festival a showcase of dance theatre and music performances scheduled to take place at the DSW theatre in February. She also had trouble finding space for a holiday performance by Bach Tots a program she runs for young children. She ended up booking at Cardel Theatre but the facility is located in a suburb is only available weekdays and the contract includes a short notice cancellation clause meaning that she could have to reschedule at the last minute if the company needs the space.

Although new performing arts spaces are in the works — Decidedly Jazz Danceworks is planning a new facility (see our story on page 4) — Peters says she doesn’t think the community can wait. “If we have a municipal investment [in the arts] but now we can’t produce events because the space is not there it’s kind of a critical time” she explains. “There’s a lot of grand plans but I just don’t know if… any of the smaller arts organizations are going to be able to make it through the gap.”

Patti Pon president and CEO of Calgary Arts Development (CADA) says the need for venues as identified in the 2007 Arts Spaces Strategy continues to hold true today. “Space always is the number 1 issue. And affordable space is number 2.”

To help address that issue CADA’s Joni Carroll co-ordinator with the Cultural Space Investment Process recently started holding open houses with landlords who have available space. CADA also encourages arts group to visit its website and sign up for its e-newsletter to keep informed of opportunities.

Although Pon calls the loss of the DSW theatre “tragic” she says it’s important to remember that the dance company itself is not going anywhere.