Wednesday, October 3, 2012

OPINION: Slocum Struggles for Survival

Slocum Player's new location in uptown
Vancouver. Photo by Ruth Zschomler.

It has come to my attention that the Slocum Players (formerly the Slocum House Theater) continue to struggle toward their resurrection. As you will recall the company had no choice but to vacate their long term home at the Slocum House in Esther short Park after city officials, who own the building, significantly raised their rent. (See related story here.) A move which in the least was a blow to the arts in Vancouver and a greed-driven, heartless, money-grabbing play; at the most a derisive and calculated attack on the arts and a stupid action.

Now that Slocum has endeavored to “pull itself up by its britches” and reinvent itself elsewhere—in uptown’s former Sassy Dress Shop turned, for a time, into Ape Over Music—as The Slocum Players at Sassy Ape Theater, the city continues to thwart their efforts.

Slocum had hoped to open the theater by August’s end and yet that time has come and gone by over a month. It seems they can’t get an occupancy permit from the city. This is not an uncommon struggle for small non-profits moving into older buildings due to newer and more strangling codes. However, it causes one to wonder if the city has a vendetta against such entities and even Slocum in particular. They were, after all, quite vocal about the city’s heartless decision to take from the company and the public the timeless gem that had graced the community for so long.

Indeed, it is my opinion (as well as the opinion of many others in the arts community) that the city (as well as the local newspaper for that matter) does not support the arts and may even be hostile towards them—especially the performing arts and the non-profit sector of said arts in particular. 

After all, non-profits, including churches, do not contribute to the tax base as do business enterprises for which the city seems to bend over backwards. (Having worked with a number of churches and non-profits on building and remodel projects I have seen this over and over again.)

However, though these small, non-profit ventures may not pay certain taxes, they are what makes a community livable. 

They contribute to the culture, the lifestyle and the happiness of the people—making them want to move into and stay in a community. (Anyone who’s played SimCity knows this fact.) The arts in particular add a great deal to the quality of life.

And as for how they affect a city’s income: When an arts patron goes out on the town for an evening of entertainment, they often have dinner out before or a few drinks after. They also, due to those evil meters, may have to pay for parking (or, if not, pay a ticket) to support the city’s coffers (that do not in turn contribute to the arts). People who live in Vancouver will stay in Vancouver to be entertained if the entertainment is there.

Our city’s council members are supposed to be, you’d think, the brightest and best; people who make decisions based on the will and good of the populace. But, well, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Incidentally, according to a source, Mayor Tim Leavitt was personally and directly contacted by phone and invited to come to Slocum’s recent fundraiser at Latte Da, but declined saying, “I think I’ll stay at home.” I know that mayors have way too much to do and all, but you’d think a brief appearance might show a little support. So, what about a shun? Not many of the city’s council members would do differently.

Finally, I note (somewhat on the side) that this same city council recently voted to ban the discharge of fireworks on every day but the 4th of July. Not only does the sale of fireworks support the work of area non-profits (coincidence?) but the move, ironically, takes away the traditional freedom to exercise and celebrate freedom on a day set aside to celebrate freedom.

Stupid is as stupid does.

Therefore, I urge you to make your voice and your vote be heard. Vote out those incumbents who have voted against the arts and non-profits and livability and freedom. Vote in those who will bring back the life these organizations bring to our city.

And, if you can, contribute to the livelihood of your local theater—especially Slocum in its time of need. Perhaps you, your business, or theater, can make a contribution.

By Gregory E. Zschomler

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