Increases have choir singing a bittersweet tune

If the Whitehorse Community Choir does not sell out its On Broadway shows this weekend, it may have to find another place to perform next year, or reduce the number of nights it uses the Yukon Arts Centre, said choir president Sue Edelman.

If the Whitehorse Community Choir does not sell out its On Broadway shows this weekend, it may have to find another place to perform next year, or reduce the number of nights it uses the Yukon Arts Centre, said choir president Sue Edelman.

The choir pays about $5,000 to rent the facilities for the two nights and three days of rehearsals beforehand, said Edelman. And that’s a lot for the not-for-profit. They also need to pay their choir director and accompanists and rent practice space at Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church. Much of the organization’s revenue comes from large events, like this weekend’s shows.

The group loves using the centre.

“This is a little town by anybody’s standards, and we have the arts centre, which is amazing,” said Edelman.

But it is the group’s largest expense.

Every three years, the centre reviews its rates. New rates started at the beginning of this month, but don’t affect this weekend’s show. Not-for-profit groups are generally charged about half of what for-profit groups pay. The minimum fee for ticketed events under six hours has increased by $120 to $470. Renting space for eight-hour rehearsals will cost $50 more.

“You have to make the decision: Do you want the incredible venue?” said Edelman. “And if you want the incredible venue, then you have to fill it. And if you don’t fill it, you lose money.”

But the centre has costs too. By law, it can’t budget a deficit, said Al Cushing, the centre’s chief executive officer. Increasing fees is just the cost of doing business, he said. They give a special rate to Yukon groups. And not every cost has risen: the cost for labour at the centre’s mainstage has stayed the same, even though workers’ wages have increased, said Cushing.

In 2011-2012, government grants accounted for almost half of its revenue. Donations and sponsorships generated only two per cent of its revenue. That’s slightly lower than previous years. Corporate sponsorship is only about half of what it should be, he said.

“Yukoners have a real strong tendency to think the territory should pay for everything,” said Cushing. “The biggest challenge for our not-for-profit arts and our for-profit arts is to go out there and convince the community. The community needs to put cash and not just goodwill into these organizations.”

Funding won’t solve everything. Whitehorse is a small market, and there’s a lot of entertainment and recreation options for people, said Cushing.

Most acts performed on the mainstage come from Outside. Meanwhile, most events at the Old Fire Hall are booked by Yukon artists. It’s a smaller venue, so it fills up faster. And it’s better for artists to see a full, small house than a large empty one, said Cushing.

What Whitehorse really needs is a smaller venue, one with around 200 seats, about half of what’s available at the centre, said Marjolene Gauthier, the general manager of Gwaandak Theatre. “It’s the only good professional venue in town,” she said of the centre. The company rents it twice a year for four or five days each time, but does most rehearsals at the Old Fire Hall.

But the Old Fire Hall won’t work for the choir.

Church auditoriums are small, and need to be booked around services. School gyms have lousy acoustics.

“We’re just trying to do something that we love to do, which is sing,” said Edelman.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com