|Dancers with Ballet Kelowna perform on stage. Mayor Walter Gray stood up for the group during Monday's city council meeting, imploring people to buy tickets for their final performance.|
To date, Ballet Kelowna has sold only 420 tickets to its final two local shows at 850-seat Kelowna Community Theatre and that's in a region with a market of 180,000 people, said Gray at the end of the regular city council meeting.
"And yet, they can go into Revelstoke and Golden - I'm using these as examples because this should really put us to shame - they attract more people in Revelstoke, Golden and, I believe, Williams Lake than they do in Kelowna."
During the past decade, Ballet Kelowna has become "an ambassador for the arts" in Kelowna, since the company travels to 28-30 communities across B.C. and in Alberta, said Gray.
But "if you can't sell seats to a performance, why perform?" said Gray.
"If suddenly everybody in town shows up and can't get in the theatre, there may be some of us in the community that say 'Well, hang on now, maybe it deserves a second chance. Maybe the public of Kelowna deserves a second chance to consider supporting the ballet,'" he said.
"It's tragic to think that such a fine, professional organization is going to have to fold because in its own town, in its community theatre, it can't get enough bums in the seats. I'm hoping there may be a last chance," he said, pointing to Ballet British Columbia which rallied public support in Vancouver when it was about to fold several years ago.
The city contributes $30,000 toward the company's $660,000 annual budget, he noted, and the Thomas Alan Budd Foundation matches the city grant with another $30,000.
"It's gone 10 very successful years, but was a struggle every year to make ends meet. That seems to be part of being in the arts. Not all organizations are successful and oftentimes, they just go bankrupt and leave a lot of people owed money."
At least Ballet Kelowna can pay its bills and not go bankrupt unlike Snowfest and Regatta where the city was "approached to bail out something that has already bailed. It's very difficult for us to justify that to taxpayers," Gray said.
"Save something happening at or on or immediately after March 15, we can say goodbye to a very important part of our arts area. It's a shame because that is an area of our community that we are trying to develop."
When his sister was a professional ballerina, she would work every day of the year except Christmas Day. "That's the kind of discipline these people have to have to get to that stage, even a small company like Ballet Kelowna," said the mayor.