Is a new performing arts centre for Penticton to be, or not to be? | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Is a new performing arts centre for Penticton to be, or not to be?

Penticton's Cleland Theatre is operated by a part time staff and the City of Penticton on a near-break even basis as part of the city's community centre.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / City of Penticton
March 26, 2019 - 6:30 AM

PENTICTON - A new performing arts theatre in Penticton’s downtown core has been on the city’s agenda since the 2007 purchase of some downtown property earmarked especially for that purpose, but 12 years later, some members of the present council are getting frustrated by a perceived lack of progress by the city’s South Okanagan Performing Arts Society to move the project forward.

Pressure is mounting for the society to provide a vision for the theatre as city staff work with residents on a redevelopment plan for Ellis Street, where the property is located. But Penticton isn’t the only community in the Thompson-Okanagan looking to add or upgrade a performing arts centre. Here’s a break down of what Penticton has for venues, how facilities impact other communities and how more performing arts in the Thompson-Okanagan could impact the region as a whole.


Cleland Theatre, on Power Street, is funded through the city’s general reserve, forming part of the recreational budget.

Recreation and Facilities Director Bregje Kozak says the theatre had an operating revenue of $27,000 last year, including the cost of producing and hosting various performances with a part time contract staff.

“The theatre is run very lean -— we don’t have dedicated staff and use a part time contractor to manage all aspects of the theatre operations and performances,” she said in an email.

Building cost for Cleland are tough to quantify as Cleland is part of the overall community centre and forms only a small part of the community centre utilities and maintenance budget, Kozak says.

“Since it’s not a stand-alone facility there is significant financial and resource efficiencies in that we use existing staff to book, clean and maintain the theatre,” Kozak says.

An official cost estimate hasn’t been done, but Kozak says the city estimates the theatre costs the city nothing to operate, or possibly a small deficit.

“A stand alone theatre would be a much higher cost with dedicated staff requirements and building operational needs,” she says.

Cleland Theatre:

  • 443 seats, 56 rental bookings resulting in 216 bookings in 2018 for a total of 737 hours booked.
  • generated gross revenues of $67,361 with a net revenue of $27,000.

Venables Theatre in Oliver is funded in part by the regional district, the Town of Oliver and the Okanagan Similkameen School District.
Venables Theatre in Oliver is funded in part by the regional district, the Town of Oliver and the Okanagan Similkameen School District.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Facebook


The South Okanagan is served by Oliver’s Venables Theatre, built by School District 53 as part of the rebuild of Southern Okanagan High School , which burned in 2011.

Oliver Community Theatre Society board member Wendy Newman said in an email the Town of Oliver and the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen provide around 25 per cent of the cost of the building and equipment. The society acquired the funds to build the theatre through a referendum in 2009.

The theatre society leases the theatre, with operating funds coming from those non-ticket revenues.

Newman said the theatre’s total budget for 2017-18 was $224,000, with $105,000 coming from the Town of Oliver and regional district Area C, and the remainder coming from earned income, donations and a grant.

The theatre’s expenses came to $222,000, leaving a $2,000 balance.

Newman says the theatre’s operating costs are still in the start-up phase, with a heavy reliance on volunteers. The school district also picks up a wide range of operating costs, including utilities and data line costs, repairs, supplies and snow removal.

“To get a better idea of full cost and subsidies of running a venue, you should look at a more mature operation, (such as) the Vernon Performing Arts Centre,” she said.

Newman said there are no official economic benefit studies, but restaurants, local motels and hotels benefit when audiences come to town and accommodations are needed to house touring artists during the shoulder season.

Newman says there are already touring circuits for performing arts centres in the valley and Venables Theatre leases with Lake Country, Vernon and Kelowna as well as theatres in the Kootenays.

“Many national and provincial touring artists will “self present” in all the venues up and down the valley and across the southern interior, while others seek to be presented by the theatres,” she says.

Newman says some shows sell out, others don’t do so well.

“It depends on the artist’s name recognition, their popularity and marketing, and sometimes, the weather,” she said.

Venables Theatre:

  • 375 seat theatre averages 250 audience members per show
  • 2017-18 budget was $224,000

The Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre is owned by the Regional District of North Okanagan, built on land donated by the City of Vernon, and is partially budgeted from a $700,000 endowment fund.
The Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre is owned by the Regional District of North Okanagan, built on land donated by the City of Vernon, and is partially budgeted from a $700,000 endowment fund.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Facebook


The Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre is operated by a non-profit charitable society formed in 1990. It took until 2001 for the Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre to open, created out of a tw- part referendum process that voted on Kal Tire Place at the same time, says Executive Director of the society, Jim Harding.

The society organized an extensive fundraising campaign that created a $700,000 endowment fund, held in trust by the Community Foundation of the North Okanagan. The performing arts centre is owned by the Regional District of North Okanagan and was built for a total cost of $9.8 million, on land donated by  the City of Vernon.

Harding said in an email the arts centre currently has a balanced budget of $1.57 million, with a full time staff of 13, 15 part time and casual employees, and 255 volunteers.

The centre is the largest presenting house in the Okanagan, at 750 seats, and plays host to 235 combined bookings in a 10.5 month span.

The centre closes from mid-July to Labour Day for maintenance. Performances include concert tours, dance festivals and recitals, comedy shows, special events, student drama productions, fundraiser events and 30 to 34 of the society’s SPOTLIGHT season dance, theatre and special presentations.

Harding says the performing arts centre generates “significant” economic activity, with a budget of $1.5 million, a ticket seller box office that grossed $2.4 million in 2017, and the Regional District of North Okanagan’s capital replacement budget of $400,000.

“A presenting house in Penticton would most certainly help anchor the Okanagan as a viable tour destination. (Vernon) does get big name acts because of the facility and capacity, technical and production value capabilities and more collaborative tours with Kamloops, but these tours we see here tend to jump over the Kootenay if headed east, with closer proximity to Alberta venues,” Harding said in an email.

Vernon & District Performing Arts Centre:

  • 750 seats, largest performing arts centre in the Okanagan
  • $1.57 million annual budget
  • 235 bookings annually (10 1/2 months)


Finally, there is the situation in Kamloops, as that city recently felt a more urgent need for a new performing arts centre in the community when the city’s Sagebrush Theatre closed indefinitely for roof repairs on the school district owned building.

Kamloops, like Penticton, also hopes to construct a downtown-based, 1,200 seat theatre that would eventually replace the 685 seat Sagebrush Theatre - at a cost of $70 million.

The project is in the city’s strategic plan, but there is no timeline as to when the centre will be functional.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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