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Land Trade and the Arts Center
by Elizabeth Nelson


September 21, 2004

I would like to thank Mr. Thompson for his letter regarding the land trade and the Arts Center. He has taken pains to grapple with complex issues. He has come to some conclusions, however, that are based on faulty and incomplete information. We are grateful for his support of the arts. But he is still unaware of the extent of arts programming in Ketchikan. He is wrong. The art center is an absolute necessity.

There is a common misconception in this community that there are a number of facilities that adequately serve the performing arts. This is not true. I will take the time to cover each of the facilities Mr. Thompson mentioned. The Kayhi Auditorium, Ted Ferry Civic Center and the Rec Center are all results of extraordinary vision and hard work by our community. They all faced the same kind of hurdles and opposition that the Art Center faces today. They are successful. They will continue to be successful once we have an art center. But clearly now, and even more certainly in the future, they don t meet the arts needs of the community. They are obviously insufficient in meeting the visual arts studio needs of the community, but they are also insufficient in meeting the needs of the performing arts. As someone who has directed hundreds of performances over the past 18 years, I am writing to let the public know the pluses and minuses of each space Mr. Thompson mentions in his letter.

1. Kayhi Auditiorium Cost - This is a truly wonderful facility and as a community we are very lucky to have this space. However, the space is costly to rent and difficult to schedule. The cost of Kayhi is $57 an hour. This is the same whether we are rehearsing or performing for an audience. To produce most plays, the cast and crew must spend a minimum of 30 hours on the stage for rehearsals. If we include set construction and the gelling and focusing of lights, the time spent is closer to 50 hours. The cost of renting Kayhi for 50 hours is $2,850 for just for rehearsal and tech time. Add on to that the $1,140 rental for the maximum of four performances that time scheduling constraints allow us to schedule, throw in set strike and the cost of venue rental for one production can be over $4,000. In a large production, such as First City Players annual fall musical, that cost can be justified. For smaller productions, it is very difficult to find the funding for that type of venue cost. Kayhi as a theater venue is only getting worse. There is no shop space available (the shop is being used for school district storage) and the Green Room (originally built as rehearsal and theatre storage space) is currently being used as a classroom. This means that First City Players is also renting storage space for sets and props, renting another space to build sets and renting yet other space for rehearsals. This is exhausting and destabilizing at best for volunteers and staff alike. The possibility of small plays, original plays, recital space, trial performances, community experiments in creativity is cost prohibitive.

2. Kayhi Auditorium Availability - The Kayhi Auditorium is primarily a school space. This means that school events should and do come first. All of us in the arts community understand and respect this. This does, however, lead to difficulties in scheduling our events. Often we are unable to get dates that would work best when planning an entire season of plays.

We end up with too many too close together which is difficult on our volunteers. We are not only working around the schedule of the auditorium use, but around the sports events at the school as well. There may be no event in the auditorium on a given weekend, but if there is any other busy activity happening at Kayhi, the auditorium is unavailable for rent.

3. Ted Ferry Civic Center - Another fine space. The space is truly an asset to the community, but let's face it, despite early effort to meet the 35 year old vision for a Ketchikan Art Center, it was not built as a performance space. Some productions work passably within the limitations of this facility. Despite numerous inconveniences and difficulties, our annual Jazz/Cabaret Festival has thrived in this space to the point that there is no longer room to grow. The Fish Pirate s Daughter and Crab Feed this year succeeded in this space because we could charge extra for the crab. It would have never succeeded charging for theater alone. The sightlines in the Civic Center are poor, the acoustics are difficult to put it mildly and there is no wing space, no backstage support space and it is also very expensive to use. During our production of Fish Pirate's Daughter this past summer we spent $700 per performance to rent this space.

4. SEAVC - Sorry. This space is not suitable for live productions. There is no backstage, wing space for entrances or exits. This means the only suitable play for SEAVC written in the past 2,500 years of western civilization would be Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit, but unfortunately you cannot use this space if you charge admission to the performance.

5. The Rec Center - There is no performance space available. It is cost prohibitive for rehearsal space.

This said, Mr. Thompson has missed the most important aspect of the art center and that is in its vision for growth in the arts in this community.

First City Players, the Arts Council and Ketchikan Theater Ballet have more than doubled in size in the past seven years, from combined annual budgets of about $430,000 to nearly a million dollars. That is because Ketchikan is changing. The change is just beginning. When we talk about an art center we are talking about a tremendous opportunity for economic development by strategically expanding the community s quality of life portfolio. Hundreds of families have relocated to Ketchikan in the past seven years, because it is, all rain aside, paradise, and because it is exceptionally vital in the arts. Let's move forward, instead of succumbing to the short-sighted logic that would have nixed the Rec Center, Ted Ferry Civic Center and the Kayhi Auditorium in their planning stages.


Elizabeth Nelson
Artistic Director
First City Players
Ketchikan, AK - USA


Related Viewpoint:

"Land Swap" Current "Hot Button" Issue at Borough Level by Glen Thompson - Ketchikan, AK - USA



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