VOGUE THEATRE, the Khyber, and the City.

As the Daily News readers out there know, the Vogue Theatre is in jeopardy. The Swim brothers, who, through their company Foundery Developments own the Vogue/Cove, have had the property sold for $250,000 to Empire Group in a “tax sale.”

The Swims have the option to pay the back taxes and stop the sale within 6 months. The taxes are only $16,000. However, the building COULD end up in the hands of Empire Group, who would tear it down. This is unfortunate, but it is not too late to save this building.

Regular readers, and people who read the local messageboards, know that I have been very harsh about the Khyber Arts Society (and related organizations) attempts to save the bar and the building. It probably strikes some people in the arts and culture community that I am a huge hypocrite for wanting to save the Vogue and being less than supportive of the Khyber.

I think it is important that HRM support community based organizations to deliver services. The model of not for profits providing most recreation, arts, and culture programming can work, and work very well. I hope that the transition from a city model to community partnership model is completed soon, though, as right now we have some cases of city run operations competing with bigger budgets with their own partners. This is the case with the Box at Cole Harbour Place, with city paid staff, running all ages programming identical to the Pavilion, operated by an entrepreneur with a lease and only his own resources to draw on.

I specifically hope that the city will add to its inventory of institutions, not just the needed art gallery and museum we do not yet have, but also another Civic Theatre and an artist run centre. To build a theatre is millions and millions. To stabilize, renovate and restore the Vogue is exponentially less. We need an artist run centre. We may need an alternative performance space as well. However, the centre of cultural policy has to be a planning based approach. We need to identify what an artist run centre would do, what publics it would serve, what stake holders would be involved, and then find or build a space that meets the list of requirements generated from that process. Maybe that space would be a renovated Khyber. Maybe it would be part of the new central library. But I think the Khyber concept has run its course for now, and a far deeper retrenchment and examination of needs and motives is required. The arts run centre concept is portable, it could go in an old school, another city building, a rented space, a new building.

As far as the Vogue goes, that building is the second last of the old theatres left in the city. The other is the Oxford on Quinpool. The space itself defines the building’s use and audience. If it is torn down, the cost of replacing it is huge. The concept of a 1500 person concert hall/multiuse performance and meeting space is not easily portable. The building is the resource!

As for the alternative performance space… that could be the front retail space of the Vogue… or the bar in the Khyber, or maybe a black box space in the new central library. Again, requirements drive solutions, I am unconvinced the bar space in the Khyber is financially viable, or truly meets the needs of the community that hope to use it.

I hope that HRM and other levels of government will recognize that even with purchase and renovation, the Vogue property represents an unique cost effective solution. I hope that steps will be taken, not just in terms of capital investment, but business & strategic planning, market studies, and operational funding, to fully develop the potential of what this unique building can mean to the neighbourhood, the Capital District, and the whole of HRM.

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