The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

Dream of Saving Vancouver’s Pantages Dies April 27, 2009

Filed under: Business of Arts,Politics of Arts — Rebecca Coleman @ 5:44 pm

Only a little more than a year ago, on April 16, 2008, I was part of a huge celebration that took place at Vancouver’s 100-year-old Pantages Theatre on Hastings St. The event was attended by, and featured the talents of, some of Vancouver’s elite, including Christopher Gaze and Dal Richards. It was a huge success, and hope was high–on that day, we announced the $26-million plan to restore the theatre by developer Marc Williams.

The Pantages Today

The Pantages Today

It looks like that dream has died.

In October, 2008, it was announced that the future of the Pantages was in jeopardy. Hung up in red tape at City Hall, the developer put the property up for sale. Every month the building sits empty, it costs him in the range of $30,000.

On December 9, members of the Pantages Theatre Society presented an early Christmas gift to the then-new Mayor, Gregor Robertson. It was a book that included more than 350 letters of support for the Pantages, and a plea to the Mayor to reopen negotiations.

On December 19, City Council voted to allow the owner of the York Theatre, Bruno Wall, a density transfer, and that Vancouver landmark was saved, and a $12 million restoration is in the works. Hopes were high that City Council might consider something similar for the Pantages.

The Pantages Theatre Society’s website has been taken down, and a source close to them told me that the building did not fare well during this past (heavy) winter.

In an email from Dr. Charles Barber, head of the PTS, he said:

Ten years from now, after this 101-year old dazzler is demolished and replaced by utter mediocrity, people will wonder how we could have been so stupid.

It makes me incredibly sad to report this. I recently attended a backstage tour of the Moore Theatre in Seattle, whose archetecture was so strikingly similar to our Pantages. This is because the archetect that assisted in designing the Moore, was the archetech for our Pantages. The two theatres opened within a year of each other. Seeing the Moore was like seeing the potential of the Pantages, if we could only get there.

In this city, any indepenndent theatre producer will tell you one of our greatest challenges is finding spaces to produce our plays. The restoration plan for the Pantages was to include not just the main 650-seat theatre, but a second, smaller, 99-seat black-box theatre. The plan also included 200 units of social housing. No one can say that homelessness is not a huge problem in our city.

It’s just wrong.

You can see all my past posts on the Pantages here.

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Pantages to Present Letters of Support to City December 9, 2008

Filed under: Business of Arts,Politics of Arts — Rebecca Coleman @ 12:25 am
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In an excellent example of good timing, this email arrived in my inbox this morning. I’m sure help and support would be appreciated if you have the time to go.

Pantages Gives Xmas Present To New City Council

Event: Presentation of Letters of Support for Pantages Theatre
Date: Tuesday, December 09, 2008 Time: 1:15 pm
Location: Vancouver City Hall / Third Floor
The Pantages Theatre Arts Society will present to all members of the new Vancouver City Council, and certain senior City staff, Christmas presents on Tuesday December 09, at 1:15 pm.

The gaily wrapped and decorated Xmas presents consist of one copy each of “The Book of Letters — From the People of Vancouver to the Mayor and Council, In Support of the Pantages Project.”

There are hundreds of letters. The volume is the size of the Manhattan phone book.

Members of the Pantages Board, led by president Peter Fairchild wearing a Santa hat, will distribute these to each member of Council.

“We come bearing gifts,” said Fairchild. “And the greatest gift will be the restoration of hope and beauty, theatre and art and housing, at Hastings and Main. The new Council has an opportunity to get it right. They have a chance to change forever the perception and the reality of our neighbourhood. ‘The Book of Letters’ proves massive public support for this amazing project.

“It’s our Xmas present to Council. We look forward to Council’s present to the City,” Fairchild concluded.

Contact: Peter Fairchild at

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Pantages Update December 8, 2008

In October, it was announced that the future of the Pantages Theatre was in jeopardy. After more than three years of trying to negotiate a deal with the city of Vancouver, owner Marc Williams gave up and put the property up for sale.

This prompted a flurry of emails and petitions headed in the direction of City Hall.

Pantages Stage

Pantages Stage

I also sent a letter to City Hall, and received a response from them accordingly.

The response from City Hall was, in my estimation, very confusing and difficult to understand, but from what I could figure out, the issues were these:

1. The Pantages is asking for $30-40 Million for the restoration, not the $10 Million that was promised them by the city
2. The Pantages needs to seek funding at a Provincial and Federal level, and they have not done that.
3.The City claims that the Pantages has never submitted a formal development application.
4. The City cannot proceed before there is a formal assessment completed, to which they have dedicated $150,000. This will not be complete until the end of March, 2009.

I spoke with a member of the Pantages Theatre Society, and they had this to say about the City’s four points:

1. The Pantages has never asked the City for money. What they are asking for is density transfers. What that means is, the city allows the developer to build buildings that are higher than would normally be allowed.
2. Because the Pantages is such a local landmark, there is little chance of Ottawa being interested in helping to fund its restoration. There is some possibility that the Province will kick in.
3. Pantages submitted a development application on December 3, 2007. That application was rejected by the city on June 2, 2008.
4. Time is a big issue. For every month the Pantages sits, and every month that the development is not starting, it costs the developer more than $30,000. After more than three years of this, he has decided to cut his losses, and try to sell the property to get some of his money back.

There is a ray of hope. While negotiations had broken off, which prompted Williams to put the property up for sale, since the municipal election, it is my understanding that negotiations have resumed. The property, however, is still up for sale.

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Vancouver’s Pantages Theatre in Jeapordy October 25, 2008

Filed under: Politics of Arts — Rebecca Coleman @ 3:58 am
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Early this year, I got involved in a project through my friend Kevin McKeown over at Publicity Plus Event Marketing. It was a project that was close to my heart, and every single person who got involved in it worked for free because we all believed in it so deeply.

Looking down at the stage from the balcony

Looking down at the stage from the balcony

Vancouver’s Pantages Theatre, opened in 1908, is it is the oldest surviving theatre in Vancouver, and the oldest purpose-built vaudeville theatre in Canada. It is also the oldest surviving Pantages theatre in North America. In 2005, developer Marc Williams bought the property and the four adjoining ones to the west. The plan was to gut and restore the 650-seat theatre (which has incredible acoustics), build a new lobby, a new entrance, an art gallery, and 130+ units of social housing.

On April 16, 2008, after many, many tours, meetings, and getting people on board, we had a press conference announcing Williams’ $26 million development plan. It was attended by media, members of the arts community, and the Downtown East Side, and it was a huge success.

This theatre is magic. I don’t know any other way of describing it. Being in there was amazing. Even though the theatre is derelict and falling down, the energy is incredible. The history of that building, and its potential impact its resident companies, specifically, and the Vancouver arts community in general, is immense.

I have just received word from Kevin that the property has been put up for sale by the developer. According to Williams: “We tried for over three years to find a financially viable proposal that would satisfy the many interests at stake. Ultimately, we could not. The Pantages was a very powerful idea. The theatre, the housing, the retail businesses – the combination was extraordinary. I was proud to have been a part of it. I am so disappointed we could not make it work.”

According to CTV news, the issue is that “the city wants more time to study the $26-million restoration plan that would be funded by governments at a number of levels.”

My understanding is that, during this time when politics are at the forefront, in anticipation of a municipal

The Boxes

The Boxes

election, this could become an election issue. The Pantages Theatre Society encourages you to send an email of support to:, and cc: it to

Vancouver needs the Pantages. The Arts community desperately needs more performance space. The Downtown East Side would benefit both from the social housing, and access to and involvement with cultural events in their own neighborhood.

Adam Abrams’ blog post on the Pantages

The Vancouver Pantages Website

The Save the Pantages Facebook group

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Seattle versus Vancouver April 13, 2009

Filed under: Business of Arts — Rebecca Coleman @ 10:20 am
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I just came back from a weekend in Seattle. The weekend was meant for pure getting-away-from-it-all, escape-your-life, have-some-fun, go-shopping-eat-at-cool-restaurants. But it turned into an interesting comparison of the Seattle versus Vancouver art scenes. Ironic, because I didn’t save any receipts, so I can’t even write it off.

Music: Being a lover of Jazz, and being in Seattle with a Jazz musician, the possibility of going to a jazz club is always pretty high. Seattle has a couple of well-established jazz clubs in the downtown core: The Triple Door and Jazz Alley. We ended up at Jazz Alley, which is a large, elegant space, and run like a well-oiled machine. We don’t have anything in Vancouver that I can think of to compare it with. The music was world-class: The Joshua Redman Trio–all three incredible musicians in their own right, but together, a force to be reckoned with.

Arts Coverage via free publications: Seattle has two newspapers which are both roughly comparable to The Georgia Straight: The Seattle Weekly and The Stranger. The Stranger is the more edgy of the two–its use of the F-word was pervasive, and it focused on the more underground art scene. And, interestingly, its cover article this week was called The Vancouver Problem, a comparison of our two visual art scenes.

Theatre: While I didn’t get to actually see any shows while I was there, there certainly seems to be lots of stuff goingimg00061-20090411-0959 on. Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show, and Crime and Punishment dominating. What I did get to do is a backstage tour of the Moore Theatre (which is housed in the same building at the hotel that we always stay at). The Moore is managed by the Seattle Theatre Group, who also own The Paramount, a few blocks away. Seattle has a group called The Seattle Landmark Association, whose interest is in saving and restoring old theatres. They have had some success with theatres like the Moore, not so much with others like the Pantages (which is now a parking lot). I was very impressed with the passion these people have for saving and preserving their theatre. The Moore opened only months before Vancouver’s Pantages, and the architect of our Pantages was the assistant architect on the Moore. The similarities were startling. You can view my stream of photos from the tour here.

I could go on… about food, shopping, the cultural districts, the bookstores, and the coffee. When you go away on a trip somewhere, there is always the “grass is always greener…” factor that needs to be recognized and taken into account. But having said that, it might be interesting to start a discussion with people who are active in the arts scene of your favorite get-away place: who knows what we can learn from each other?

Try this experiment: pick a place you’ve always enjoyed visiting, and do a search to see if you can find some interesting blogs that are being written about that place’s arts scene. Then, start a conversation, and ask them to guest-post. And if anyone from Seattle is reading this post, feel free to email me… I’m open to the discussion.

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Let’s talk about homelessness December 10, 2008

Filed under: Business of Arts,Politics of Arts — Rebecca Coleman @ 4:06 am
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Today, at 1 pm, Peter Fairchild, Chair of the Pantages Theatre Arts Society, accompanied by Santa and some elves, had an early Christmas gift for our new Mayor, Gregor Robertson. They presented Robertson and members of city council with a three-inch-thick bound book of letters of support (about 35o, apparently) for the Pantages Theatre.

Gregor Robertson gets an early Christmas gift.

Gregor Robertson gets an early Christmas gift.

The Pantages is a 100-year old theatre located on Hastings Street in the downtown east side. Three years ago, it was bought by a developer, Marc Williams. His plan was to gut and restore the 650-seat theatre, create a 99-seat black-box theatre/rehearsal space, an art gallery, new lobbies, and new elevators. Included in the $26 Million restoration plan was over 100 units of social housing.

One of our new Mayor’s big plans is to eliminate homelessness in Vancouver by 2015. Anyone who lives in this city knows that homelessness is a big problem. And while we are not saying that this will eliminate homelessness, it sure is a start.

The presentation today was also attended by several members of the PTAS, notably Dr. Charles Barber (as Santa), Adam Abrams (the elf) and Tony Pantages. Yes, that Tony Pantages.


Gregor Robertson engages in a photo op with Santa and an elf.

Peter Fairchild appeals to the Mayor.

Peter Fairchild appeals to the Mayor.

There is another group of people that face homelessness if the Pantages does not recieive the permits and funding that it needs to continue, and that is the three resident companies that are meant to occupy the Pantages when it is finished. Those companies are City Opera of Vancouver, Vancouver Cantonese Theatre, and Vancouver Moving Theatre.

My experience of being a theatre in this city has taught me that it is difficult to find affordable production spaces in Vancouver to produce plays. Having another, under 100-seat black box theatre would be a big help to our small, independent theatre companies.

So let’s get talking about ending homelessness, Mr. Mayor!

Check out Adam Abram’s account of the afternoon here (he’s the elf)

Mike McCardle’s story on Global TV.

Flickr photostream:



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And then life… October 14, 2008

Filed under: Business of Arts,Business relationships,Life — Rebecca Coleman @ 8:04 pm
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This is a blog about the business of being an artist, and I don’t usually like to talk about my personal life in it, because it’s not a personal blog. Generally speaking, I’m the kind of gal that doesn’t like to allow my personal life to affect my business. While I do love to work with like-minded people, I am of the philosophy that, if I’m having a bad day in my personal life, I shouldn’t allow that to affect my work. I just push through.

But sometimes life happens, and it affects your business. Six months ago today, my mother died. At the time, I had fewer clients than I had now, because I was still very much in start-up phase, and my clients, bless them, were very understanding at the time. My mother had been sick with cancer for two years, and we knew, prior to her dying, that the time was short. In other words, it wasn’t a surprise, and I thought I was prepared. But I wasn’t. And that’s what life’s like sometimes. You plan, and prepare, and you think you’re ready, and then you are just not.

My life was in turmoil that week. I was trying to keep up with my work as much as I could, while being in the middle of funereal arraingements, family stuff, and huge emotions. There were a few things that got me through that week: my friends and family, first and foremost, my son, and my work.

Two days after my mother died, I was at a huge press conference for the Pantages Theatre that we had been planning for months. Granted, my participation in this event was considerably less than I had thought it would be, but I was there. And a couple of times,  I lost it. But I showed up. And the knowledge that there were people who were depending on me, that I had a responsibilty to, kept me from going to bed and staying there.

So yes, try to keep your personal bad days from infulencing your work. But also know that sometimes life will happen. And during those times, just be good to yourself. Do the best you can, and forgive the rest. Because life is too short.

Oh, and do me a favour? Call your mother.

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