You never take it for granted because things could still happen.
—Trudy Schroeder, WSO executive director
Manitoba Theatre for Young People may be under financial strain, but other major arts organizations in Winnipeg are cautiously celebrating successful seasons.
Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre general manager Camilla Holland says although Gone With the Wind
was one of their most expensive productions in recent years, a large
number of subscribers and healthy walk-up traffic helped them exceed
expectations for ticket sales. "I think we had hoped we would sell a
total of 80% of the seats available including subscribers and we were
close to 90%."
Dedicating a large portion of an annual budget to one marquee production is a bit of a gamble, but Holland says because the work was commissioned by artistic director Steven Schipper, they decided to put their own stamp on the production and not take on a co-producing partner.
"What was so wonderful was that Manitoban audiences responded in such great numbers. And when you open a massive show you want it to be popular, for people to be talking about it. There's a huge community in the States that is passionate about it, people came from Atlanta to see it," she says.
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra performs Messiah (WSO)
Trudy Schroeder is executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, she says although the WSO is also enjoying a good season, arts groups like hers can never take the audience for granted. "I would have to say we have more than met our target when it comes to subscriptions. In terms of dollars, it's an increase of over $150,000 in subscriptions over last year. And it's spread out over series, family concerts, Pops, Masterworks, everything is up about 8 per cent," Schroeder explains.
But an ebb and flow of ticket sales is always anticipated, and with sales on target early in the season, Schroeder says there was a noticeable dip in October and November. When December's programming kicked in, shows like the Messiah
and Barenaked Ladies: Hits and Holiday Songs
Now heading into their sixth consecutive year with a surplus, Schroeder still isn't ready to declare victory. "You never take it for granted because things could still happen. [We] still have lots of income to bring in, things are looking very good but there's still another three months to go."
Schroeder also acknowledged the balancing act that arts groups have to be aware of when mingling new work with that of established artists. "Part of our responsibility is to bring in the best the world can offer that we can afford. Things that will attract people to our concerts who are attracted by a larger name," she says.
Dancers perform in The Princess & the Goblin (Bruce Monk)
It's a sentiment echoed by Jeff Herd, executive director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. With successful shows like The Princess & the Goblin
in the books this season, Herd says though the company's goal is to do outstanding ballet, balancing new and familiar work has to be part of the equation.
"We always keep that in mind, it's complex putting together a season, we want a diversity of offerings and in the ballet world, new creation is a fundamental part of the art form."
The Winnipeg Art Gallery has been walking that line as well. As part of the gallery's centennial celebrations, they featured a fall exhibit of work by contemporary local artists called Winnipeg Now
. That show attracted 22,095 visitors, while more than 30,000 passed through the gallery's doors for an exhibit on famed American artist Norman Rockwell last spring.
Guidelines (Get a Dog), 2012. Digital print. (Jessica Bradley Art + Projects)
But for Judy Slivinski, the WAG's director of development and marketing, getting people in the doors and engaging with the art can come in many forms. Last weekend's annual fundraiser for the gallery, Art & Soul
, was sold out for the third year in a row, grossing $86,000 for the WAG and bringing about 1000 people through the doors for the one event.
Slivinski explains how events like Nuit Blanche
- which attracted 7500 people in September - a partnership with the National Gallery of Canada for loaned exhibitions, school tours, art classes and other special events provide opportunities to build engagement.
"All of us are trying to contextualize and make the work come alive for our audience," she says. "It doesn't take us too far afield, we don't do carwashes. [Art] is a less active medium, with a gallery we want people to understand there are different way of engaging with the work."
As to why so many arts organizations in Winnipeg are enjoying a bit of a Renaissance, Slivinski offers her take. "I think it's a combination of two things. One is that our economy is recovering, so optimism is returning. I think we're also riding a trend in communications, with electronic media making information available to us at the press of a button, we cannot afford to be the staid, sombre, hallowed halls of the past."
RMTC's Holland agrees that despite the many options competing for entertainment dollars, supporting the arts still holds tremendous value in the city. "This is the most generous province in so many ways. And there's nothing that's going to change that, not even a cold winter."