The resident arts companies at CenterStage have started taking advantage of a grant from the city aimed at offsetting the rising rental rates that have driven some groups away from the nonprofit’s venues.
Money has been going out to local companies for about a month and the $240,000 grant should last through the current season, CenterStage spokesman JaySmith says. So far, the organizations which have used it include the Richmond Symphony, Richmond Ballet, Virginia Opera, and Modlin Center for the Arts.
“It’s to be used primarily to offset rental rates. It wasn’t stipulated that it had to be for resident companies although that’s the target,” says Smith, who notes that CenterStage can oversee how the money is spent at its venues.
CenterStage oversees four venues: Altria Theater, Carpenter Theatre, Rhythm Hall and the Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse.
Rental rates are different for each one, but CenterStage won’t disclose them, Smith says, because “it’s [like] a commercial venue.”
“In essence our rental rates for resident companies went up this year,” Smith notes. “But this grant helped lower it from what they paid last year.”
Resident companies include the Richmond Symphony, Richmond Ballet, Virginia Opera, Quill Theatre, Elegba Folklore Society, City of Richmond Department of Parks & Recreation and SPARC. CenterStage reports to them how much of the city grant they used and how they benefited.
CenterStage is working with Ryan Ripperton, director of the resident company association, for ways to help all of them, Smith says -- “though understanding that we want to attract the smaller companies back.”
For shows running six days of production, Smith notes, the help could add up to two or three thousand dollars -- “which can make an important difference.”
CenterStage has received help from the city before, including a bailout on delinquent tax funds in 2014. So how else might the venue use the $240,000?
Smith cites the example of resident company Richmond Forum, which holds its shows at the Altria Theater. The Forum asked that instead of reducing rent, the money be used to buy 200 more chairs for the ballroom, where overflow ticket holders watch the event on a video screen.
“They sell hundreds of more tickets than seats on every show,” Smith says. “So this way, the extra seats meant more money for them. It’s a small cost for us, and they make more then they would’ve saved on rent. Cookie-cutter solutions are not good with the [different-sized] resident groups.”
So far, most of the money has been put toward offsetting rental rates. Style left a message with Ripperton and others for comment and will have updates.
Groups such as Quill Theatre -- formerly Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare -- are considering returning to CenterStage in 2016 after moving shows to other venues because of high rental rates. Managing director Jacquie O’Connor says it was too late to change the current season.
Any remaining grant money will roll over to next season, Smith says.
CenterStage hopes to show that resident groups increased their use of the venue to apply for more money from the city. But no discussions have started about future grants, Smith says, and other methods such as joint fundraisers likely will be necessary.