Voices want to be heard by new theater management

DOWNEY - It was community activist Harold Tseklenis who first pointed out that arts advocate Carol Kearns, in her letter to the editor (Dec. 2, 2010), captured the gist and spirit of what transpired at the Nov. 23 city council meeting regarding the new management arrangement of the Downey Theatre.Kearns' main points were: 1) Except for Councilman David Gafin, the council was "quick to approve this million-dollar contract without allowing much time for public input"; 2) she commends Councilman Mario Guerra for suggesting a yearly cap on city funding of $400,000; 3) she wondered, "What will happen to the current theater staff?"; and 4) after all was said and done, she was really concerned mainly about "I do wish the council had allowed more time for discussion." And this is what resonates among the cultural cognoscenti. Almost lost in the din was Councilman Roger Brossmer's contention that "the theater subcommittee [of which he was a member] and staff had been at work on this for six months. Speaking as a private citizen (but intimately involved with the Downey Symphonic Society), Lorine Parks wrote: "Downey certainly needs a thriving center for the performing arts…Some of the arts are in place and performing brilliantly - the Symphony and the Downey Civic Light Opera. Their audience is here, and now we need to build a larger audience base and more artistic activity. We now need innovative programming, and I hope VenueTech will be the ones to do it…Interest in any of the arts stimulates interest in all the arts. We the citizens of Downey want more involvement with the lively arts. We hope VenueTech will bring it to us." Marsha Moode, of the Downey Civic Light Opera: "I want DCLO to continue. It's been in operation for 55 years. Other groups have shut down. It is difficult. But it is important that it continue. Therefore I hope things will work out. I'll be glad to give my input in any way I can." Downey Rose Float Association's Susan Domen: "It is my understanding that it won't affect our operations one way or another." DUSD superintendent Wendy Doty: "We're happy to work with the new management firm." Tseklenis: "I agree with Councilman Luis Marquez when he expressed concern that, quoting Carol Kearns, 'the establishment of a non-profit foundation to do fundraising [to offset the city's subsidy] could result in an unfortunate situation of several entities competing for the same funds.'" Further, he said that the sources are "drying up." He agrees with the feeling that VenueTech will nevertheless be facing "a big challenge." He also hopes they will look at the upcoming results of the census, so they can "plan accordingly." Andrew Wahlquist, a longtime Downey resident who describes himself as an independent filmmaker and theater enthusiast, has some trenchant observations at his website, www.downeyarts.org: "This is a 90-degree turn from the status quo that has run the theater for the past 30 years,"; and "This is a good development since the theater is dark anyway for more than 2/3 of the year." He applauds VenueTech for its wanting to get involved with the community, for their wanting the city and its residents to have ownership of the theater, and for their wish for anonymity with the patrons of the theater. He's also glad that the DCLO, the Symphony, school concerts and local artist groups as well as arts-oriented festivals are planned to be a major part of their future programming schedule. "With marketing and increased awareness of the big picture of the theater," he said, "these programs can flourish...Otherwise, I'm excited at VenueTech's decision to work with the community. Hopefully it will give us a better chance to take ownership." Echoing David Gafin, Wahlquist said, "The future is uncertain, but so far it's at least a change with a lot of good potential." Finally, "an arts renaissance must come from a city's residents, not the city staff and council," he said. "I'm proposing to form an official city arts task force so we can talk about these things on a monthly basis and come up with a framework for Downey's approach to the arts. How hard can that be?" Gafin: "The reason why I dissented was we need to let the general public know what's gong on. We need a little more input from the general public." "The bottom line," Gafin said, "is we'll still exercise control over them. If there's a bad situation, we'll be able to go after them, hold them accountable. Remember, the agreement calls for a 5-year period. In the next council session, perhaps we can discuss their proposed business plan." Pauline Hume, whose late husband, John, was the first managing director of the theater, said: "I have very mixed feelings about this arrangement. I am not totally unhappy with [VenueTech president John Lind). He appears worthy… I am distressed with the city leadership and the lack of transparency and communication to the Downey community. This is not the first time the arts groups have been discounted by the leadership. I am very happy that at long last the city leadership has decided to take a positive action on behalf of the theater… I don't know if VenueTech and Mr. Lind is the right management, consulting, booking firm for us not. I guess we'll find out." There we are, some citizens approving of the latest development, others skeptical as usual. Proof that you can't satisfy everybody. Employee layoffs Because of the management agreement signed by the city and VenueTech, the full-time position of theater supervisor and the 25 temporary/part-time on-call positions that have performed essential theater functions (lighting, sound, stage, house management, etc.) will be eliminated, according to the city's human resources director Irma Youssefieh. The appropriate notices were sent out Tuesday. Under the new dispensation, current theater supervisor Noreen Kimura, who has served in the department for a number of years, is subject to layoff effective Jan. 7, 2011 if, said Youssefieh, "there is no other full-time alternative." The part-time positions will be wiped off the books effective Jan. 31, 2011. "All employees impacted will have the opportunity to submit their interest to VenueTech for employment consideration," said Youssefieh. "These same employees based on their interest and qualifications would also be considered for any current openings with the city." Under the Memorandum of Understanding establishing terms for Kimura's position, she is entitled to a three-month severance payment equal to three months' salary. The position was in the $27.21-$33.71 per hour range. The hourly pay of the part-time positions ranged from $13.79-$23.75.

********** Published: December 9, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 34

NewsEric Pierce