MTYP’S finances ‘dire,’ says incoming manager
DURING the 2011-12 season, Manitoba Theatre for Young People dealt with some very grown-up financial problems, such as not meeting payroll, having its line of credit cut and being forced to ask for advances on next year’s grants.
That MTYP’s books are splashed with red ink has prompted the Manitoba Arts Council to place the 30-yearold organization on concerned status.
“The financial situation is almost crisis-like here,” says Zaz Bajon, on the eve of his taking over as MTYP executive director Friday. “There is a deficit of $1.6 million. There is a cash flow problem. We have to figure out how to pay for things. It’s not a pretty sight right now trying to figure out who gets what. “Financially, it’s dire.” In the hopes of alleviating the cash squeeze, MTYP plans to send out a letter to parents and supporters next week outlining its precarious fiscal situation and asking for donations to help pay off a small shortfall.
Much of the current problem is a carryover from the construction of its $5.6-million landmark home opened at the The Forks in 1999. The organization still owes around $1.2 million, “an albatross” which costs about $182,000 in mortgage payments annually. That’s money that should be going into the making of theatre MTYP is so celebrated for staging.
The result is that artistic director Leslee Silverman dropped two productions from its 2012-13 playbill as well as not producing, as usual, its own, big Christmas show in favour of bringing in Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat from Minneapolis.
“It’s discouraging and worrisome,” says Silverman. “But the doors are not going to close. We live in a place that values culture for kids.”
Bajon, who retired last June after 30 years as general manager of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, was brought in earlier this year to audit the MTYP organization and was surprised at what he found.
“I always thought they did boffo business,” says Bajon, who is taking over from general manager Denise Lysak, who is off to a job with a Vancouver theatre company. “This organization does great art so from that perspective it’s excellent. It is weak in its financial management.”
He also found that MTYP did not gen- erate enough money from the private sector or anywhere close to the percentage of ticket revenue a company like RMTC collects.
“If it’s theatre for little people, you get little money,” Bajon says.
Adding to those concerns was the misappropriation of $77,000, according to a lawsuit filed in the court of Queen’s Bench, by a former comptroller. Not only did MTYP miss that money but its funders questioned its financial numbers. One federal department delayed its $200,000 contribution, exacerbating MTYP’s cash-flow difficulties.
“It added more confusion to our financial situation with our funders asking what else is wrong,” Bajon says during an interview at MTYP with Silverman.
Bajon sees his top priorities as retiring the debt, creating an endowment for the company and improving reporting procedures. He believes these are risky times for cash-strapped arts groups. No one believed any prominent 40-year-old arts group like the Vancouver Playhouse could close but it did mid-season this year. .
“So now there is a new reality,” he says. “It could happen.”
So that’s why MTYP is going public with its plight.
“I don’t want to stand on a rooftop and yell but I think it’s important we tell the public,” he says. “By people knowing our situation they’ll come to our rescue. There are people who want to help this organization but they don’t know we need help.”
As its lineup has expanded, Deer Tick’s sound has evolved from folk-oriented to a more rowdy rock ’n’ roll vibe.
MTYP is struggling to make ends meet.