The decision by Showcase Productions’ board of directors to leave the Susan Taylor Theatre at Amherst Regional High School appears to be the natural conclusion to a struggle the organization has endured with the theatre’s management, the school and the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board.
We are not picking sides, but the fact another theatre company finds itself in crisis has to lead to the question about how much Amherst cares about the arts and what its elected officials are prepared to do to ensure there’s a future for the arts in this community?
Several years ago the town hired a consultant to meet with the arts community’s various stakeholders as part of the effort to develop an arts, culture and heritage strategy for the town – a plan to foster the growth of the arts while protecting our heritage so it can be enjoyed by future generations. It seems as though it has missed the mark.
Tantramar Theatre is but a shell of itself after being displaced from the Dominion Public Building as the town moved forward with plans to relocate town hall from the Confederation Memorial Building on Ratchford Street to the former post office. The town felt it had good reason to purchase the Dominion Building to save it from falling into disrepair and it very well may have been correct to move its offices to the building many consider the jewel of the downtown.
But, the displacement of the theatre out of the downtown continues to some to be a loss to the area in that people are no longer going to dinner or the lounge before going to or coming from the theatre – especially during the theatre’s summer season.
Now, Showcase Productions is indicating it’s prepared to leave Amherst to find a venue in which to offer its programs. Considering there isn’t a plethora of performing arts centres in this community it appears as though Amherst’s loss could be Sackville’s gain.
Showcase Productions pours several thousand dollars back into youth programs each year. It gives scholarships and bursaries to graduates going into the arts, it supports the youth group at the Baptist Church and it helps bring Neptune Theatre to Cumberland County. It also supported the spring musicals at Spring Street Academy and Cumberland North Academy.
Amherst cannot tell the school board how to manage the school, but it needs to protect its investment to ensure the community has access to the theatre. Sure, the performing arts may not be the priority that streets, streetlights and sidewalks are, but it’s important for the town to at least ask questions, consider both it and the Muncipality of Cumberland made a significant investment in that facility just over a decade ago.