Saint John Common Council to consider funding cut to Imperial Theatre

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Saint John’s Imperial Theatre grapples with possible budget cuts
The Imperial Theatre in Saint John is trying to bring the curtain down on a plan that would cut about a quarter of its operating budget. Saint John Common Council may slash the theatre’s funding as it grapples with a multi-million-dollar deficit. Tim Roszell has more. – Feb 24, 2020

The Imperial Theatre in Saint John is trying to bring the curtain down on a plan that could cut about a quarter of its operating budget.

The proposal, from Saint John’s city manager, would see the theatre removed from the Greater Saint John Regional Facilities Commission, meaning it would no longer be mandatory for Saint John and surrounding communities to offer financial support.

READ MORE: Saint John council makes 1st comments on 2020 ‘transitional’ budget

A submission by the theatre to Common Council asks councillors to reject the plan. The 12-page document indicates that loss of funding would take $548,604 out of its operating budget, or about 25 per cent.

“As you can imagine, for any organization, or even for a business, to lose twenty-five percent of their operational funding in a twelve-month period is huge,” said Angela Campbell, the executive director of the Imperial Theatre. “And at this point, we haven’t been able to find a financial scenario that allows us to cope with a loss of that magnitude.”

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Campbell said even a partial cut in funding would result in substantial increases in ticket prices and rental fees, and a reduction in services and staff.

“Closing the doors would be the absolute worst-case scenario,” Campbell said. “It is a scenario we don’t even want to consider.”

The theatre’s submission listed numerous community partners, organizations and groups that would be impacted by a cut in funding, including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Saint John Multicultural and Newcomers Association, Interaction School of Performing Arts, and the Saint John Police Force.

Symphony New Brunswick plays six-to-eight shows annually at Imperial Theatre, according to general manager Jennifer Grant.

She said a loss in funding or closure would cripple her organization.

“It’s our home,” Grant stated. “It’s very important to us. And we sound wonderful in the Imperial Theatre because the acoustics are so great.”

Saint John Mayor Don Darling said the proposal is one of 50 council is considering as it continues to grapple with a $10-million deficit. He said council received the submission and would “likely” be discussing it at Monday’s meeting of common council. He said that discussion could determine if the theatre “moves on into the next phase of those (financial) discussions.”

“We’re exploring a range of ideas, and none of them are easy,” Darling said. “I can assure you that likely no one on council wants to put items on the table, like the Imperial Theatre and many others that we’ve put on the table, but we simply have no choice.”

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“We will continue to work with the city, with our board and with staff and other PACs (Performing Arts Centres) to look for models to ensure that we stay open,” Campbell said. “And, ideally, at the level of service that we’re able to provide now.”

READ MORE: Recreation programs still on Saint John council chopping block

If common council approves the recommendation, the spotlight then shines on the province. Any changes to the Greater Saint John Regional Facilities Commission must be approved by the New Brunswick government.

Darling said any changes as part of the deficit elimination strategy will be finalized by the end of March.

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