Council in talks to support arts venues

The city council went into secret talks yesterday with governors of the Nelson School of Music and Theatre Royal over a management arrangement aimed at ensuring their future.

Councillors discussed in the public excluded session of the governance meeting details of the proposed transfer of assets, and negotiation of a lease and contract with the school of music and Theatre Royal.

The talks were a step toward formalising the arrangement already agreed to in the council's budget planning. Support for the school and theatre, plus the Suter Art Gallery, was prioritised in the 2012-22 long-term plan.

The council's arts activities asset management plan recommended that the council take ownership of the school of music building assets and either refurbished Rainey House or sold it to offset costs, and carried out earthquake strengthening work.

The plan also recommended that the school's board continue to provide mixed commercial and community services.

The council set aside in its draft plan $2.07 million over the first three years, plus ongoing costs of about $350,000 each year for earthquake strengthening work on the school of music. It also budgeted to take on ownership of the Theatre Royal building plus outstanding debt of $2m, with ongoing costs of about $370,000 a year.

Representatives of the school of music and Theatre Royal boards spoke in support of the planned move at the public forum of yesterday's meeting.

Tony Stallard said on behalf of the school of music that the initiative would go further than securing the future of the school. It would also secure the future of the music and arts culture of the Nelson community.

"The school of music is a service delivery organisation - infrastructure is a different issue.

"We need to modernise the facility to develop a nationally significant boutique facility to bring people to this community," said Mr Stallard, a school of music supporter who has provided legal advice to the board.

He said the council had the expertise to maintain infrastructure and the ability to look after assets.

"We propose a transfer of the assets so the board can get on with the job of running the school," Mr Stallard said.

He said the board wanted to ensure proper use of the school and to work in co-operation with the Theatre Royal for the benefit of the community.

A new overarching governing structure was proposed from the merging of the Theatre Royal and Nelson School of Music trust boards.

Theatre trust chairman Kerry Marshall, who also spoke at yesterday's public forum, said the plans in place were a "great step forward" for the arts in Nelson.

"There is wide community support for the arts and a strong mandate to invest in the arts.

"The Theatre Royal is a monument to the hours and hours of work that many good folk put into restoring it," Mr Marshall said.

He said it had become one of the most heavily used theatres in New Zealand, and had a growing reputation as a great venue.

Mr Marshall said the school and theatre were unique in New Zealand and formed part of Nelson's image that helped set it apart from other provincial cities.