Front of house supervisors Devon Caron and Caitlyn McGown pose in the Civic Theatre’s lobby. Photo: Submitted

Front of house supervisors Devon Caron and Caitlyn McGown pose in the Civic Theatre’s lobby. Photo: Submitted

LARGE POPCORN, EXTRA BUTTER: COVID-19 and my three-year promise

Eleanor Stacey on The Civic Theatre’s financial aspirations

by Eleanor Stacey

For the last few years, I have written an end-of-year letter to patrons, friends, and donors, seeking to give a truthful look inside the machinations of The Civic Theatre. From our roots to save our cinema to our endeavour to become more than movies, I’ve looked forward to finding ways to offer a closer viewpoint to community members who have joined us on this journey.

Two years ago, I promised a three-year plan for fundraising: three years of giving would get us there, tying us over until our three-screen venue was realized. Last year, I invited everyone to help us Spread the Light, musing on the notion that we are not the only influence on what happens in our venue; that our patrons shape our content too and are a critical part of what makes our space and our future bright.

So here we are in what is effectively Year Three, the last year of that promise. This is the year that I was supposed to say that we were nearly there and next year we would be ready to open our new facility, able to support ourselves, and ready to celebrate all our successes!

But of course, COVID-19 happened this year. We were closed for five months, during which we sold curbside popcorn and started a drive-in movie theatre, before we got the green light to reopen with restrictions. Now the drive-in is closed for the winter (next year’s location TBD), and until recently we were back to the Civic for all our screenings but with audiences of no more than 50 people.

However, COVID-19 isn’t the only thing that has happened in 2020. Within our capital campaign planning, we have talked so much about what we want to be: a cultural media arts centre, and a home for our imaginations. The challenges presented by COVID-19 have pushed us hard to be creative and entrepreneurial, and our efforts have indeed paid off. At The Civic, despite so many challenges, we have continued to offer and develop exciting and important things that benefit the whole community:

We were able to announce more than $3 million in funding towards our capital project, thanks to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program and Columbia Basin Trust. With other support in place, this places us at 71 per cent of our $4.18-million capital fundraising goal. If all goes as planned, we expect to be able to open our renovated venue in 2022.

In collaboration with the Renascence Arts Society (Tiny Lights Festival), we began the three-year Rural Artists Inclusion Lab (RAIL), a Vancouver Foundation-funded program looking closely and systemically at the ways in which arts venues, organizations, administrators, artists and audiences can become more inclusive, specifically in rural Canada.

In a nod to our social enterprise beginnings, we bought Reo’s Videos, and we are getting ready to reopen this Nelson classic in a new space.

We launched our inaugural artists residency program, offering space and staff support to four Kootenay artists to explore, develop, workshop and contemplate their respective projects.

We have continued to work tirelessly towards our vision for a thriving Kootenay film economy, with a goal to have a direct economic impact on local businesses and families through film projects.

And there has been so much more: Marquee messages, the Zombie Walk (dismembered), CoVideo Challenges, Video on Demand, virtual conversations with directors, the Super 8 Film Challenge (online). In fact, we will be sharing a new set of Video on Demand selections soon, curated by our friends at the Vancouver International Film Festival throughout the month of December.

Finally, on Dec. 20, we will be taking the annual Home for the Holidays Winter Celebration of family and friends online in a free event for families and people of all ages.

So, back to my three-year promise. While our broad-ranging programming has positioned The Civic as a resource for artists, a growing leader for inclusion and economic development, and an investor in local people and business, this moment is hard. We are not currently allowed to screen films, and our audiences have been small this fall anyway, given the current cautious social climate. However, with a little help from friends, this could indeed still be the last year we seek broad-reaching general operating support from our community.

By the time this column is published, Giving Tuesday (the philanthropic counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday) will have passed, and I hope we will be reporting that we made or surpassed our goal of raising $5,000 of our $20,000 year-end target. These funds will go towards ensuring that in this year of sharp turns and significant challenges, our community programs and services can continue to foster artistry, serve our audiences and the greater public, and do what we can to improve equitable and economic opportunity in our community; to build a home for our imaginations.

If you would like to learn more about how you can help The Civic Theatre navigate through COVID-19 and emerge well on the other side, please visit our website at www.civictheatre.ca.

Eleanor Stacey is the executive director of Nelson Civic Theatre Society and The Civic Theatre.