SUNDRE — This past weekend’s live music performance by the Marcus Trummer Band represents the return of live music at the Sundre Arts Centre.
Although the Sundre & District Allied Arts Society, which runs the facility, had hosted a couple of other events over the past few months, Saturday’s show was the first indoor music performance offered to the community since the start of the pandemic.
But that wasn’t from lack of effort or desire.
“We had another couple of acts scheduled before them (Marcus Trummer Band),” said Cindy Orr, who is among four executive members on the society’s committee.
“The first was The Travelling Mabels. They’re really popular, a local favourite. But every time we’ve tried to host them, there’s been restriction changes just before the concert. We’ve had to cancel that a few times now,” she explained.
And in November, an appearance by Rachelle van Zanten also ended up being held off. However, the society anticipates eventually rescheduling both in the hopefully not-too-distant future some time later this year, she said.
In the days leading up to this past Saturday’s show, Orr said ticket sales were shaping up.
“We’re running the building with the same type of modified restrictions that we had for our other events,” she said, referring to the B.S. Productions performance in November as well as Christmas dance recitals put on in December by Studio K Dance Gallery.
In a nutshell, that means proceeding under the provincial government’s Restrictions Exemption Program. Organizers also chose to reduce the number of available seats, partially to alleviate potential COVID-19 concerns but primarily to enhance people’s all-around comfort.
“The capacity for table-and-chair seating is 130 people for the venue,” she said, adding the facility also has a different fire code rating to accommodate 180 people under assembly-style seating.
“It can get a bit crowded in there. So, we’ve restricted it to 90 just so that there’s a bit more room for people to feel comfortable.”
Additionally, efforts were made to ensure the best possible ventilation of air in the building, including some open windows as well as fresh air intakes for the furnace to run, she said.
“We are doing other factors as well to help mitigate any COVID concerns,” she said.
And as a result of the uncertainty created by the restrictions roller coaster over the past couple of years, the society also adjusted its refund policy so anyone who might be feeling unwell can reach out to request a reimbursement.
“We don’t want anyone coming that’s not feeling great,” she said.
“Quite a journey to get back here”
The society has certainly not escaped the pandemic unscathed, but seems to have weathered the storm so far.
“It’s been difficult, for sure,” said Orr.
During the first public health measures introduced at the very start of the pandemic in March 2020, The Travelling Mabels had been scheduled to play.
“That (concert) was immediately cancelled,” she said. “Basically, all the rest of the activities for the remainder of school year were cancelled as well.”
There were some after-hours programs, including dance groups, that were able to continue under a modified format, she said.
When restrictions changed again in the fall of 2020, there was some back-and-forth on video classes and eventually moving back to in-person classes.
“We’ve tried to keep the venue open while adhering to every new rule change. So, it’s been a lot of juggling to make sure that we’re compliant and that people feel safe,” she said.
The substantial reduction in rental income to offset costs the society couldn’t control was perhaps the biggest hurdle to surmount, she said.
“We were really fortunate in that the (Sundre) High School band was needing extra space when COVID restrictions were first introduced, because wind instruments were a concern,” she said.
“So, they were able to use the facility during the day. And dance was able to proceed as well. But they all had reduced class sizes.”
However, prior to the pandemic, the centre would typically be fully booked, she said.
“That makes a big difference to our operating expenses and what we can cover.”
The society therefore decided to apply for some grants through the Alberta government, and was subsequently approved for funding assistance with rolling out COVID safety measures as well as the Stabilize Program.
“That was a huge help,” she said about the latter. “That helped us recover some of those costs that we were at a loss for, like insurance and building operating expenses.”
Meanwhile, the board has remained busy updating the society’s bylaws, working on its website and coming up with fundraising initiatives, she said.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, she said the society had successfully built up its reserves to work on some projects the committee had in mind. Of course COVID-19 derailed those plans.
“We’d essentially pulled down all those savings to cover our operating expenses,” she said. “The Alberta government Stabilize grant really did save us because we were able to replenish our savings and we can look at going forward with some of the projects that we’ve been saving for for a number of years.”
While the society was also made aware of available grant funding from the federal government, Orr said the group had already essentially covered its losses courtesy of the Stabilize Program and decided against “double dipping.”
“So, we didn’t apply for those,” she said, expressing praise for the municipality’s efforts to communicate options with non-profit groups.
“The Town of Sundre too has been excellent in sharing grant information,” she said, adding emails were sent out with details about grants that were available.
The committee is delighted about finally being able to bring back indoor live music performances for the community, she said.
“This has been a long time coming. It was pretty momentous when we had B.S. Productions start in November,” she said.
“But to actually have a concert we can sell tickets for — and people bought tickets for — and that we’re still able to proceed with…we’re really over-the-moon thrilled. It’s been quite a journey to get back here.”