Skip to content

Key funding secured for Vernon Towne Theatre upgrades

Greater Vernon Advisory Committee approved the society’s request for $60,000
At its Wednesday, Jan. 10, meeting, the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee approved a request for a $60,000 grant to help the Okanagan Screen Arts Society complete renovations of the Vernon Towne Theatre. (Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce photo)

A round of applause broke out last Wednesday evening after the Greater Vernon Advisory Committee (GVAC) voted to provide $60,000 to the Okanagan Screen Arts Society, funding that is key to improving and maintaining the storied Vernon Towne Theatre.

More than 20 members and supporters of the Screen Arts Society attended the Jan. 10 meeting at the Regional District of North Okanagan (RDNO) headquarters after Screen Arts Society leadership issued a “shout out for support,” encouraging people to come to see if pivotal funding for building upgrades would be provided.

Heading into the meeting, RDNO staff had remained equivocal on whether funding should be granted.

“We haven’t identified it as being recommended for funding, but it hasn’t been recommended that we don’t fund,” said Tannis Nelson, RDNO manager of culture and community services.

GVAC director Amanda Shatzko pointed out the unusual circumstance of a society asking for upgrade funding in a building they are leasing.

“If you’re needing the upgrades on your building, it’s usually the landlord’s responsibility, so if local government isn’t owning this facility and they’re asking for money for facility upgrades, have we done that in the past?” Shatzko asked.

Nelson said the RDNO has funded Mackie House in the past, for example, though she pointed out that the society that runs Mackie House owns the property.

“I can’t think of a time when we’ve provided funding for infrastructure in this particular way, which is why it’s important that the committee considers it,” Nelson said.

Prior to the meeting, Okanagan Screen Arts Society board member Donna Elliott had expressed that the Towne Theatre’s future could be in jeopardy if the funding wasn’t secured.

Shatzko expressed concern that the $60,000 could make or break the Towne Theatre, saying there was risk involved with the investment if the society is operating on such thin margins.

“Is there any kind of guarantee we have in regards to reassuring that if we provide the money that they’re still going to be operational?” she asked.

“It’s a little bit scary to me hearing that they are going to close the doors if they don’t get this grant.”

Nelson agreed that “there is risk, and that’s where we are.”

Director Ruth Hoyte said she has no doubt that the Screen Arts Society “contributes to the cultural experience of our community,” but said “we are talking about taxpayers’ money.”

She echoed Shatzko’s concerns about the society’s apparent financial instability.

“Are they that financially unstable that they have to close the doors (if they don’t receive the grant)?” she said, adding she would like to see long-range plans from the society.

Nelson pointed out that the information that the theatre doors would close if the society didn’t receive the funding came into the discussion externally from the application.

“The application that we received in no way indicates if we don’t get this we’re closing the doors. That didn’t come to us in a formal way,” Nelson said.

Following this discussion, director Akbal Mund pointed out that the society has spent over $250,000 upgrading the theatre and they just want to finish the work.

“I’m kind of struggling on why we wouldn’t do this,” said Mund, who made the funding motion, which was unanimously passed.

After the meeting, Elliott said the society was “very grateful” for the committee’s support.

She said hundreds of thousands have already been put into renovations at the theatre, and the $60,000 will help the society finish that project.

The funding is key because it secures a matching provincial grant, Elliott said.

“This $60,000 really guarantees our provincial grant is in place now and that we can move forward with the phase of the renovation that we need to do,” she said.

Elliott said the renovations are essential to creating a stronger revenue stream at the Towne Theatre as the society looks to make the space more suitable for live events where the ticket prices are higher than for movies.

“If we have to depend solely on just cinema … it is harder to do because at $10 a ticket you need a lot more bums in seats than you do at $40 a ticket.”

The GVAC decision to recommend funding will now go to the RDNO board of directors for approval.

READ MORE: Vernon Towne Theatre named top independent theatre in Canada

READ MORE: Kids dress up, parade through Vernon in support of childcare centre

Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started at the Morning Star as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
Read more