Letters to the Editor

Financial decisions fall under scrutiny

To the editor:

A group of concerned members have requested a special general meeting of the Kelowna Ballet Society. It will take place Wednesday, March 13, at the Black Box Theatre.

The main subjects of that meeting will be the finances and the much criticized plan of the board of directors to turn Ballet Kelowna into a shell.

The Kelowna Ballet Society is registered with the Canada Revenue Agency as a charity.

Financial statements of all charities are available for inspection, to anyone who is interested, on the CRC’s website, www.cra.gc.ca.

If your favourite charity was the Kelowna Ballet Society, the parent of Ballet Kelowna, you may discover that in 2011, after it paid all its expenses, the society had net revenues of $110,718.

Not bad for a small ballet company with a handful of dancers and one artistic director who had founded the company just 10 years ago.

As a comparison, the much larger, much better known and much older Okanagan Symphony, with about 50 musicians, shows net revenues of $21,907.

You may also find out that the little Ballet Kelowna spent $194,147 on fundraising, compared to only $13,715 spent on fundraising by the symphony. Isn’t that funny?

I thought that all those nice ladies who help at Ballet Kelowna’s events were volunteers, and that all the food samples we get to taste at the $250 per head Pirouette fundraisers were donated free of charge by local restaurants.

Almost $250,000 in professional and consulting fees was spent in 2011 by the Ballet Kelowna board of directors,

True, Ballet Kelowna’s total includes about $90,000 in dancers’ salaries. They don’t get T-4 slips and do not qualify for unemployment. But where did the rest of that $250,000 go?

Who were the consultants and how much did they get for their advice that led to what the mayor of Kelowna now calls a tragedy?

In addition, Ballet Kelowna board spent another almost $120,000 on staff salaries.

The Kelowna Ballet Society is lucky to administer several funds for its members. For instance, the George Hyde Legacy Fund, which still contains some $95,000 left from the original $125,000 legacy.

According to the figures printed in the Ballet Kelowna programs, there should also be some $59,000 in our Future Fund. With the future of Ballet Kelowna being decided right now, that Future Fund money should be used right now to save the company.

Probably the most important question to be asked at the special meeting will be: How do you explain the downfall from the large net revenue in 2011 into a deficit in 2012? What were you—and what are you guys doing with our money?

According to the present president for the board, the profitable Pirouette fundraiser, which brings in over $100,000 every year, was canceled because it would not be fair to accept money from big donors and tell them later that the doors would be closing.

Very fair and square. But how about all the people, like you and I, who pay to go to the Flower Power garden show to support Ballet Kelowna?

The garden show will be still on in June, even though Ballet Kelowna may—and let’s hope not—be no more.

Is it OK to spare the big donors from a possible disappointment and save their money, but take money from the general public—from the ordinary people? They may need it more than the rich folks.

Why the special treatment for the rich, and the not so fair and square deal for the rest of us? Are we not supposed to be all equal?

Things have certainly changed fast. The president of the Kelowna Ballet Society stated at the general meeting in December that Ballet Kelowna’s situation was “within our common ability to resolve” and declared that “the current shortfall of just under $3,000 a month, is, your board believes, something well within our common ability to resolve.”

Only a few weeks later, on Friday afternoon, Feb. 1, he came to the studio and started handing out termination notices to the dancers, the staff, and the artistic director.

What would you say to someone who hands you a pink slip, then takes you aside, and asks you to work for free for another six weeks?

The financial crises improved a bit a few days later when the dancers and the staff offered to take pay cuts, and when further cost cuts were proposed.

As well, some of the  out-of-town shows were canceled, as angry presenters who pay the dance company a flat fee to come to their towns were faced with hurrying to replace Ballet Kelowna with someone else in order not to lose their money.

We are told that when the sponsors agreed to fulfill their previous commitments to Ballet Kelowna, it became possible to extend the spring season to the end of April, when it was originally planned to end.

What happens next is a wide open question. Again, it’s all about money.

Ballet Kelowna did not get any gaming grant,  the already awarded B.C. Art Council’s grant may have to go back, and city council continues to sit on their butts and wait.

But there is some good news. People are showing their support by signing up for Ballet Kelowna memberships, which has almost doubled in number since the beginning of the controversy.

And the Ballet Kelowna show on March 15 is just about sold out, just like their other sold out shows in Golden, Revelstoke, Hanna and Edson.

The Ballet Kelowna president talks a lot about the low audience numbers in Kelowna. But he doesn’t seem to realize, that it’s his and his board’s task to get people into the theatre.

Some of his board members don’t even come themselves to the performances of what is supposed to be their own ballet company.

Josh Beamish, the local young man who is gaining fame in the ballet circles, is only in his 20s, but he is already well aware of the need to canvas hard to fill the theatre seats with people.

When his dancers perform in Vancouver, they all get on the phones and ask their friends to come to the show and bring their friends with them. Otherwise the turnout could be dismal.

Ballet is not hockey, it is not the Cirque de Soleil.

One of the best known personalities of the Canadian ballet scene, Brian MacDonald, who just like Josh Beamish has choreographed his works for Ballet Kelowna, says the same: It is the job of the members of the board to get people into the theatre.

And he knows what he is talking about. He knows his business better than many, otherwise he would not be the companion of the Order of Canada and the recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.

We should all applaud, and applaud as loud as possible so that it may be heard all the way to City Hall, for the couple who came out of nowhere, bought two tickets, and left a $2,000 donation.

There was a Ballet Kelowna presentation at the Orchard Park Mall not long ago to show the people of Kelowna what Ballet Kelowna is all about.

The people came, they bought tickets, they bought memberships.

Not a single board member showed up to help or to show support, and they did not come to the recent Ballet Kelowna show in Vernon.

Jiri Strom,

founding member,

Kelowna Ballet Society


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