Performing Arts want smart people to take to the stage and do more than tap dance. If you have organizational smarts – call them.

Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  March 6, 2013  Getting good help is never an easy task.  Finding the people with the skill set needed and the temperament to do the job is what smart human resources people do for a living.

When the search is for the director of a public corporation all kinds of resources are available. When the search is for leadership of a community based organization that is expected to be one of the economic drivers – in Burlington, we don’t give them anywhere near the resources needed to find the right people.

We let egos, clout and long-established relationships determine who is selected for a Board and forget that the taxpayers depend on political and economic leadership to make wise decisions.  Thinking outside and looking outside the box is vital – and for the Burlington Performing Arts Centre it is critical to their survival.

The Centre is currently asking for nominations to the Board of Theatre Burlington Inc., the non-profit that oversees, on behalf of the community, how the Performing Arts Centre is run.

Some hard-working people with great skills and experience got the hole dug in the ground and erected a fine structure.  It has all the whistles and bells needed to put on first class performances.

The Performing Arts Centre looked great on its official opening night – staff showed they knew how to dress the place. The program being offered is good – the communication with the community and the selling what they have to offer is where there are problems.

Management of the Centre showed the community they knew how to put on a boffo event when they held the Official  Opening in December of 2010, that had Sarah McLaughlin on stage.  It was a first class event – it didn’t make any money – it wasn’t supposed to.  It was a showing off event that Cogeco Cable used five cameras to cover.

After that it was time to get down to business and that’s where there was some slippage.  The definitive agreement between the city, which owns the building, and the Theatre Board took close to forever to get completed.  That should have been a sign that there is “trouble in paradise”.

The soft start was a wise move, they took time to get the feel of the building and work out the bumps.  The city had great hopes, some of them were uninformed hopes, these places never show a profit but there were those in Burlington who thought the place was going to show a surplus each year.

As the Centre got into full operation the problems began to show up, small ones at first,  but there was a consistency to the problems.  The first year the budget for the Centre was taken to a city council committee the Executive Director was left to fend for herself – there wasn’t a director in sight.

Councillor Taylor  was impressed and said he looked forward to a trouble-free operation.

When the Performing Arts people returned for funding this year it was a different story.  There was a significant shortfall in rentals and a deficit that had to be covered.

The projections put forward earlier were unrealistic, and PAC management didn’t provide Council with the data they needed in a timely manner.

The two city representatives on the Theatre Burlington board had not kept council fully briefed on just what was happening.  If they didn’t know – then we really have a problem.  The Mayor and Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven sit on that Board – it was their job to ask the hard questions and properly represent the interests of the taxpayers who are now going to see their tax money used to pay for the shortfall.

It looks as if city council will approve the funding required but there are going to be strings attached.  Councillor Taylor as chair of the Budget and Corporate Services committee that will be approving funding but there are conditions: he wants a full Business Plan review that gets into the details and learns where the problems are and what’s being done to resolve them.

And he isn’t going to tolerate PAC management holding back on critical data.  The kimono will be wide open.

That is usually the domain of the Board of Directors of the PAC who have clearly failed.  The good news to all this is that the Board is now looking for nominations to that Board.  Let’s get it right this time.

Is there another local Board Councillor Craven could serve on?

The Mayor does not appear to have kept his fellow council members informed as to just how big a financial mess the Performing Arts Centre was experiencing.

It wouldn’t hurt if the people handling the selection of Board members brought in a consultant with human resource experience.  Jeff Fielding, city manager, had better be on that selection committee.  Given the failure to perform on the part of the Mayor and Councillor Craven,  it might be a good idea not to return either of them to the Board.

We have a serious problem to which there is a solution and there are people in this city with the experience to solve those problems.  Time to look outside the list of the “usual suspects” and bring in people who have the needed experience and the desire to take a fresh look.

Gerry Smallegange, President and Chief Executive Officer of Burlington Hydro could be on that Board and Stephen Friday , chair of the hospital board.  Anissa Hilborn who heads up the hospital foundation would ask the tough questions.   This city has the talent the Performing Arts Centre needs – dig it out and get them to work.

The objective for Board members, as set out on the PAC’s web site is:

To lead a progressive performing arts centre that is a gathering place, offering a balance of community and professional programming guided by artistic vision and excellence

To build, foster and celebrate cultural vitality and diversity in the City of Burlington so that the Performing Arts are seen as an important component of everyday life

Corporate happy is the kindest way to describe those two statements; they are a reflection of why that Board doesn’t function.  The current Board consists of:


Allan Pearson, Chairman

Rick Burgess, Vice-Chair

Peter Ashmore

Robert Ban

Councillor Rick Craven

Ilene Elkaim

Jeff Fielding, City Manager

Mayor Rick Goldring

Denise Walker

The media release on the PAC web site doesn’t say how many are being replaced.  The Chair and the vice chair might want to look for something else to do.  Peter Ashmore is stick handling a tough situation, it would be a pity to lose him but he has been at this for four years.

The city’s political representation should first be taken out to the woodshed and then given something else to do.  Does the city have representation on the Animal Shelter?

Denise Walker is a sensible woman but the problems may be more than she wants to handle.  Ban and Elkaim are not people we know.

The PAC Board is looking for some new directors.  The call closes March 15th – slip over to their web site and learn more.  For the strangest of reasons the people who want the applications are using a gmail address – they have a web site, not sure why they aren’t using addresses with their domain name it it.  If you’re interested and think you can help: pop them a note at

Where is Keith Strong when he could really be useful?

The Performing Arts Centre is a vital part, probably the most vital part, of any vitalness that is going to take place in the downtown core.  They can, and are expected, to provide the energy that will have coat tails others can ride on.  This isn’t just about the PAC; this is about the strength of the commercial sector in the downtown core.

Councillor Taylor is right to insist that there be a review of the existing business plan.  Let’s see what he manages to get done in October.  Taylor is the chair of the Budget * Corporate Services committee and he’s not shy about expanding the mandate of his committee.

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