Both Sides in the Cultural Centre/RuBarb Dilemma

Robert Thomas

Depending on who you believe, there are two narratives of what happened when renegotiations failed to keep RuBarb Productions in the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre. The only thing certain is the theatre company is out by the end of the month.

"We had a 10 page contract which was a pretty good, give and take on both sides and it limited the space we could use. We went into the renegotiation meeting and thought we had an agreement," said RuBarb Productions CEO and Artistic Director, Evie Koop-Sawatzky.

"The board said they had already voted and decided to take the offer off of the table because the facility was not large enough for a group like us. And because of that they weren't fulfilling their mandate in culture in Moose Jaw," Koop-Sawatzky said.

The notice to vacate was issued to RuBarb Productions on May 28th and came as a shock since they were prepared to sign a new lease.

She said the reason given was that during the Moose Jaw Band and Choral Festival, the Cultural Centre had asked to make use of the rehearsal hall. RuBarb gave up the space but the group had decided it was better to rehearse up stairs.

"The Band and Choral Festival had wanted to use space downstairs and the rehearsal room and then they didn't want to use the space anymore," she said.

RuBarb had its ticket office, rehearsal halls, acting school, storage areas and office in the basement of the Cultural Centre.

"They were saying because we were in that space they were preventing them from renting out that space."

"It came as a shock (to me) and also to our negotiating team. And as a registered charity trying to move in 30 days, it's an unbudgeted expense."

The theatre company will continue to use the Cultural Centre's Mae Wilson Theatre to present their productions.

RuBarb was initially invited to move into the Cultural Centre by former General Manager Darren McCaffery.

"He approached us with coming into the Cultural Centre," Koop-Sawatzky stated.

The Cultural Centre at the time signed a five year graduated payment contract, which meant each year of the contract the amount would increase.

Asked if she would reveal what RuBarb's rent had been, given the MJCC Board had rejected the amount as not enough, she declined to provide the amount.

"It was a significant amount but less than retail space downtown...it was fair in our minds."

It cost RuBarb $15,000 to upgrade the basement space to suit their needs.

Having their operations under one roof at the Cultural Centre allowed RuBarb to multi-task staff making for a more efficient operation.

"We believe the Cultural Centre is the place for us to be," Koop-Sawatzky said.

Despite the belief the Cultural Centre is an ideal home, there have been drawbacks.

"It's been a really tough year; the reduced coverage on Main Street since being in the Cultural Centre with reduced street visibility...ticket sales have been very difficult."

Previous to their move into the Cultural Centre, RuBarb was located in a store front on the 300 block of Main Street.

Presently Evie is busy looking for a new home for RuBarb and since the theatre company is part of the Moose Jaw Downtown Revitalization Committee they are hoping to remain in the Downtown.

Despite the sudden move, she has not given up on better things to come.

"I'm an eternal optimist that there will be good news in the end."

Koop-Sawatzky said the best thing people can do is to continue to buy tickets and if they can to contribute to their GoFundMe fundraiser to assist in moving to a new home.

"The important thing for people to know is that we need your support...hopefully people will show that support by purchasing their tickets and donate to the Go Fund Me to voice their support of RuBarb Productions.

Derek Cronan, GM of the Cultural Centre, said that RuBarb had not been told to but actually been served with papers to vacate last June.

"Last June 16th (2017) they were given notice to vacate with the intent of renegotiating the contract," he said.

RuBarb had previously signed a five year deal with the previous Cultural Centre manager but under the bylaws of MJCC Inc all rental agreements over one year must be approved by the Board.

The Board had not predetermined to follow through with the notice to vacate or eviction notice but last minute changes

"That is incorrect. Changes were made at the last minute," Cronan said, when asked if the board had already decided to ask RuBarb to leave.

Ten minutes before the May 28th meeting RuBarb handed the Board the 10 page agreement with changes. RuBarb had already been told that since the Cultural Centre is a City owned facility he had requested RuBarb provide any changes a week in advance to allow a review by the Board, Cronan claimed.

Three factors figured into the Board's decision to not come to an agreement with RuBarb.

The factors were MJCC had not heard from RuBarb February to May, MJCC had heard RuBarb was out looking for a new space and because they were taking space needed for other activities at the Cultural Centre.

Ultimately, the decision to decide to not sign a new contract came down to the major issue of space.

"They gave us an agreement but still felt they did not give us some space."

A theatre company requires a lot of space and RuBarb's needs were growing with growing storage needs for props, a workshop in the loading dock and agreements with other tenants.
"In terms of space, the sheer size of a theatre company requires a lot of space and growing on a continual basis," Cronan said.

At the recent Moose Jaw Band and Choral Festival, groups had to rehearse upstairs in non sound-proofed studios which disturbed other tenants as RuBarb was using the downstairs rehearsal halls.

"It goes against the agreements we have with other tenants," Cronan stated.

Presently, the upstairs tenants include two potters and the Saskatchewan Festival of Words.
The Artist in Residence studio has not been rented for the last year, due to space considerations. Presently, there may be the opportunity to rent the space to a painter.

"It's presently not rented out, we held on to it for extra space."

The spaces upstairs were designed to promote the arts.

"Classes and educational programs in these rooms to promote arts on the community was the original intent for it."

The loading dock area had been turned into a workshop area where dust and debris were causing problems. Large cases for an art display had to be carefully cleaned before the exhibit could be packed up, due to dust and debris. The same held true for the extra chairs stored there. Despite being covered with a tarp they had to be cleaned before each use.

The workshop in the loading dock also prevented other groups using the area and actually using it as a loading dock.

"To be honest with you the changes suggested were not completely unreasonable but they did not fix the situation with our loading dock being a workshop."

At the present time the space occupied by RuBarb has no future tenants lined up but the Cultural Centre has ideas like a photography or a recording studio (educational or professional) could someday occupy some of the space. It would all depend on the budget.

Asked if a monthly extension might be granted to allow RuBarb to move to a different facility Cronan replied "we are not interested in extending the lease agreement month to month."

To assist RuBarb in their move the link to the Go Fund Me fundraiser is here https://www.gofundme.com/move-rubarb-productions