SCENE and Strutt are the two best parties in town, but they are not happening this year.
The Sound caught up with Steve Remus of the Niagara Artists Centre, and Steve Stumble to talk about why Strutt and SCENE are non-existent in 2015. We hope to see them in 2016.
Interview with Steve Remus of the Niagara Artists Centre
STRUTT is listed as an upcoming event in the Performing Arts Centre brochure, but why haven’t the public heard anything else about STRUTT yet this year?
STRUTT’s long-term home will be the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. We’ve committed to that and the centre has been very supportive. The move from our digs of the last four years at the WS Tyler factory came about because that space was reactivated for industrial use so it’s unavailable. That’s cut and dried. Just think, there’s a higher purpose for a 35,000 square foot factory in St. Catharines than accommodating an annual wearable art fiasco! I should say, though, that Tyler’s letting us store stuff there, so they’re still very good to NAC.
As for getting the word out, we’ve been trying through the NAC and STRUTT sites, but we haven’t always known what the word is. Basically, it’s about scheduling, and scheduling at the Performing Arts Centre is complicated by both the final phases of construction and the opening performances. STRUTT’s not a simple show to put on — the technical aspects, the coordinating of the performance, the live music, the video, and the visual art works themselves – all make it difficult to just drop STRUTT down anywhere.
Will it happen in the future?
Oh yeah, we’re working on it. What’s definite though, is that for the first time in fifteen consecutive years NAC won’t be presenting its signature circus of derangement in November. We will, however, present a STRUTT show in the Performing Arts Centre in February 2016, details about that will be released soon. The centre’s helping us out, otherwise it wouldn’t be happening at all.
What factors determined that this year’s STRUTT wasn’t a viable option?
Well, there are a bunch of things that conspired against us. The loss of the Tyler space is a big one but there are other more systematic challenges facing STRUTT. We’ve had great private sector support over the years, support from the province, but on the municipal level, it’s really not been there. One thing I’d like to point to is the City’s modest support through the Festival and Events Program. Currently there’s a $28,900 allotment for that entire program. So every St. Catharines festival – with the exception of the Folk Arts and Wine fests that receive a fee-for-service directly – competed for part of less than $30K in 2015. There’s a contradiction between this level of investment and the rhetoric of our civic leaders, the vision of many of our business leaders, and the aspirations of most citizens eager to live in a community that offers them interesting things to do. There’s plenty of loud talk about growing our cultural capacity through festivals and events, about attracting visitors, but a key City program intended to support these initiatives has been pretty much starved out of existence. It doesn’t matter how you compare it, either to incentives our municipality offers to other sectors of the economy, or to how other leading municipalities support their festivals and events – and culture in general – St. Catharines doesn’t fare well.
When you think of the potential for our city, all the recent public and private investment in bricks and mortar, you’d think there’d be enthusiasm for breaking through with real investment in a concerted way, to grow the cultural sector of our economy now that the platforms have been built. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that yet.
The arts in St. Catharines still suffer from the stigma that investing in them is a type of handout, whereas investment in the tech sector, or say housing development, is not. Some members of our current city council have made it clear this is what they believe despite contradicting hard data on employment and overall civic benefits. Perception’s fine if you just want to bull shoot around the kitchen table, but those with the responsibility of governing should know the facts. There are mountains of evidence proving out the shrewdness of investing in the arts, everything from returns for local businesses, to countless key indicators of community health. There are few public investments that stand to reward a community as well as arts and culture. The case has been made again and again and the success stories are out there. At this point we’re not talking about healthy scepticism, it amounts to a kind of wilful ignorance.The City’s Festival and Events Program, along with the Cultural Investment Program, are currently under review. If you want the City’s investment strategies to include support for a healthy arts and cultural sector, call your councillor and let them know. If we want to reap the benefits that cultural health offers, we need the leadership of a council that’s willing to make more than superficial investments. Maybe then the cultural sector can get on with the work of making our community a place young people want to stay, people from other cities want to visit, and that has engaging and interesting things for its citizens to do. And, the STRUTT Wearable Art Fiasco will be an annual sure thing.
Interview with Steve Stumble of Scene Music Festival
So last time we talked (Vol. 1 Issue 1), it sounded like SCENE was going to happen sometime in the fall, what happened there?
Well, we were trying to work out a deal with the Meridian Centre and they were co-operative and we sat down with them probably about five times. Because everything in that arena is already sponsored you have to use their beer and their kitchen and everything, there was no way to generate sponsorship to help cover the costs. So we crunched the numbers 10 times and every time we came to the conclusion that we would lose money. We’ve lost so much over the years that we just couldn’t afford to do that again.
The cost of the bands, the techs and everything across the board went up. We had to pay for on-duty police officers and St. Johns Ambulance and fencing and it was non-stop, it was costing us a $100,000 a year to run the event, and that was before we took on Montebello Park, which was a whole other monster.
SCENE has left me in such financial distress that I don’t have time to do other things anymore, I’m always working to pay off my debt from it. I forked a lot of money out of my pocket to run these events and when you lose 40 or 50,000$ you have to dig yourself out of the hole. I spent the last three years just trying to pay off credit cards.
We should have downsized it down to the original concept but we had a feeling that there wasn’t a strong enough music scene to take it down to that route and that’s kind of what SCENE has been based on. I keep going out to shows to see whats going on and local bands cant even fill Detour which is less than 200 people. Times change, people are into different things I guess.
There’s this whole idea of trying to keep youth here in Niagara. You kind of adapted SCENE with the times to try and appeal to younger kids, to show them that there are cool things happening here. How come that didn’t work?
We tried everything, the one thing I learned, when you’re running these kinds of events, especially with the amount of events going on, if you don’t adapt and evolve with the times you’ll get crushed. We kept trying to evolve and adapt and it was a new concept all the time, we were just trying to keep relevant because if people come to the same thing over and over again they get bored.
So when you take away something as important to the music community in Niagara as SCENE, how does that affect everybody involved?
I find that people don’t really care. I thought there would be a backlash of people saying ‘I can’t believe this isn’t happening’, and I didn’t really get that at all.
It seems like there isn’t that young generation of people who care about going to see live music anymore, you can watch it on your phone or your computer now and people only seem to care about whats popular, the underground doesn’t really mean too much anymore. That’s the way I see it.
I feel like I always hear, nothing ever happens in St. Catharines. That there’s nothing going on and everytime I go to something there’s nobody there. People need to start showing up and start supporting other people. There’s this mentality in Niagara of not wanting to see people succeed. They just want to bring you down, I don’t know why that is, but its ridiculous. I see it in businesses and its not about one person or one band, everyone has to come together as a whole and help each other out or nothing is going to happen.
So what’s the solution? Do you need involvement from the City?
We never approached or talked to the City, all the years of running SCENE the City was always using us in their marketing but they never really helped us out. We got one grant and then became unelligible because we’re not a not-for-profit, there’s a lot of politics and the City doesn’t really have much money to give to things like this. Look at Buskerfest. When those people cried poverty they gave them money to do things. It wasn’t nearly on the scale of what we were doing and it tanked, I think it left a bad taste in the City’s mouth. Why give money to things that are great in nature, but fail to bring people out?
I think its just going to take a new generation of people to try new things and try and get things going here in St. Catharines and Niagara. When I first started out I wanted to create events and shows that didn’t exist around here, and do things I would want to do.
We want to get everyone’s perspective with a whole pile of people in the music scene and downtown, and kind of see what the festival needs and if it can carry on. Maybe it just needs a fresh start.