Okanagan School of the Arts may cease operations

Board says it’s unable to raise monetary support to continue, may terminate Shatford lease

News of the possible demise of the Okanagan School of the Arts and termination of its lease of the Shatford Centre due to financial issues came as a bombshell to its former executive director.

“I just heard about it last night (Tuesday). I really don’t understand the whole picture of what’s happening here but I just don’t get it, I’m just like ‘Wow what the heck is happening here.’ We’re all in shock,” said Jane Shaak, who was also a longtime OSA board member, only stepping down as executive director last summer. “I’m very discouraged, it wasn’t actually broken as far as I was concerned.

“I certainly had no inkling that this was happening. There were some things that had changed, quite a bit of change, but the board of directors has been working very strongly on some ideas.”

Related: Revisioning the Okanagan School of the Arts

The move comes nearly 60 years after the School of the Arts started and eight years after the OSA moved into the Shatford Centre from their much smaller premises in the Leir House Cultural Centre.

The Okanagan Summer School of Fine Arts opened on July 8, 1960, and quickly grew in reputation to draw students and artists from a wide area. The main speaker for the opening was Canadian playwright, and later radio personality, Lister Sinclair, who also taught the creative writing course.

Related: Shatford Centre celebrates the spirit of creativity

OSA Society members received a notice Tuesday advising of a special meeting March 21 to deal with two board motions.

The first is: ‘That due to a lack of sufficient working capital to continue the Okanagan School of Arts would cease activity effective March 31, 2019.”

It included that the society would honour other building tenants’ leases and bookings and through “mutual agreement,” would terminate the one-dollar-a-year lease with the school district, which owns the three-storey structure.

“Once all activity is concluded the board of directors will voluntarily dissolve the society,” reads the motion.

The second item to be voted on by the membership is related to liquidation procedures should there be insufficient funds to pay all debts and liabilities.

Someone equally surprised with the news of the severity of the problem was OSA board vice-president Georgia Krebs.

“This was a real shock to our board,” said Krebs, explaining the board got word of the financial situation in early February. “At the January meeting we were going along, so we certainly didn’t see this coming.

“I take this really personally and you know if we had just a little more time this would not happen but we just don’t have the means to carry on with it. We’re a small organization and the board just decided we’re just not going into debt.”

She estimated if the board continued in its present state they would be $25,000 in debt by the end of August.

The board has spent the past nine months trying to find ways to keep things going in the community without success.

“It’s up to the membership, what they want to do but at this point but we’ve turned over every little stone and looked at every piece of paper,” said Krebs.

She added maintenance and upgrades, in addition to the more than a million dollars in grants that have gone into the 30,000-square-foot building, have and would likely continue to strain the OSA’s financial resources.

“Just to get the boilers so we can get heat on in different rooms at different times is a $10,000 investment. We have to replace the windows and that’s another $800,000. We’re going to need a new roof because of leaks, there’s fire suppression, it still works but it needs to be upgraded. This little organization can’t do it,” said Krebs.

Related: Penticton’s Okanagan School of the Arts wrapping up operations

According to superintendent Wendy Hyer of School District 67, leasing the building to OSA for a dollar a year came with the understanding maintenance is the responsibility of the lessee.

“If the decision (by the OSA Society) is to terminate the lease we would work with them to facilitate that decision,” said Hyer, adding the district has not explored options of any capital works projects for the Shatford. “They (capital works) have to be approved by the Ministry of Education. We have a number of facility needs in our schools, so I wouldn’t be optimistic that the ministry would approve capital dollars for a building that’s not used for educational purposes.”

The March 21 meeting of the OSA membership is at 6 p.m. at the Shatford Centre.


 

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Heating is an ongoing issue at the Shatford Centre as the sign on the door to Okanagan School of the Arts would indicate. (Mark Brett - Western News)

Guardians of the storage space in the Shatford Centre’s basement. (Mark Brett - Western News)

Kurtis Cullen inside the basement hallway leading to classrooms in the Shatford Centre currently leased by the Okanagan School of the Arts which may cease operations. Mark Brett/Western News

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