Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Oct. 19, 2021

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Clark County’s lack of performing venues underscored as schools pause rentals

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

That’s because the orchestra’s usual venue — the big, beautiful auditorium at Skyview High School — is now closed to outside group rentals. So are all the rest of Vancouver Public Schools’ indoor spaces that outside groups frequently rent for meetings, classes and indoor athletics.

Thanks to the renewed coronavirus threat, all those facilities are unavailable for rental now, according to a statement on the Vancouver Public Schools website. Some outdoor facilities, like playing fields and tennis courts, are all that remain available to outside groups. 

The same goes for indoor facilities at Evergreen Public Schools, which says that the restart of building rentals will depend on state education and health guidelines as well as guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People can make rental requests now, but nothing is being approved until further notice.

“Evergreen Public Schools is not currently renting indoor space to outside groups,” said district spokeswoman Gail Spolar by email. “With all of the COVID protocols in place (reduced capacity, expanded cleaning, ensuring masking and social distancing are adhered to, etc.), it is not feasible to have outside groups inside school facilities.”

Since facilities rentals are intended to provide community access — not to generate profits — the lost revenue is negligible, Spolar added.

Also closed is Washougal High School’s Washburn Performing Arts Center, a popular rental for local theater groups.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra executive director Igor Shakhman said he shared with the Vancouver district his group’s plan to follow the same safe-concert guidelines as orchestras nationwide — requiring vaccines and masks — but the district wouldn’t bend its rule. After his initial disappointment, Shakhman said he realized he shouldn’t complain.

“I totally get them closing their facilities. Their first priority is safety of their students, especially when the COVID numbers are going up,” he said.

“We are determined to keep our commitment to present world-class concerts with in-person audiences even if it means relocating this concert to Portland,” Shakhman said. “We are hopeful that we will be able to return to Skyview for our October concerts.”

This weekend’s season-premiere concerts, which have been relocated to Portland’s Newmark Theater, will be live-streamed to patrons who’d still rather stay home, Shakhman said. But streaming doesn’t cut it with many music lovers.

“We just felt compelled to keep our promise to our audience to give them an option to attend a live concert,” he said. 

‘Puffs’ at RS Medical

All of which underscores the pre-pandemic problem of a lack of performing-arts space in Clark County. Orchestra lovers have long chased the dream of a concert hall and arts center on the Vancouver waterfront; some now have their sights set on the former Vancouver Police Department building on Officers Row.

Meanwhile, some established local auditoriums — including Magenta Theater and the Kiggins and Liberty cinemas — are up and running again, after pivoting to require masks and proof of vaccines to get inside.

A theater group called Pacific Stageworks recently leased the 268-seat, ground-floor auditorium in the RS Medical building in east Vancouver for an October revival of a Harry Potter spoof called “Puffs” (billed as “a play for anyone who has never been destined to save the world”).

Masks will be required to attend that show, Pacific Stageworks’ executive director Heather Blackthorn said, but not vaccines because the play’s intended audience is young, and children under age 12 haven’t been approved for coronavirus vaccines yet. The cast and crew are fully vaccinated, she said.

The RS Medical auditorium was intended for corporate training events and goes by the impressive name Terrell-Everest Theater (for RS Medical founder Steve Terrell and Mount Everest) but the space hasn’t been used in years, Blackthorn’s been told. She means to change that, she said.

“We are in talks with other local groups to help keep the space alive,” Blackthorn said.