Covey Center provides the Arts, Provo the subsidies

Utah Regional Ballet will present "Peter Pan" at the Covey Center for the Arts March 23, 25, 29 and 30, 2013. Photos from the 2011 production. Ph; Utah Regional Ballet

PROVO -- It's been six years since the Covey Center opened it doors. Since that time it has seen main stage performances, black box theater, art shows and numerous dance and music recitals. It, like nearly all arts-oriented locations, has been subsidized by the city because of revenue shortfalls.

According to information from the Provo mayor's office, while the center is subsidized yearly, the amount has dropped substantially over the past four years. In 2010 the Covey Center received $636,000; in 2011 it received $444,000; and in 2012 it received $302,000. This year it will receive $198,000 in subsidies.

"It's always important to reassess, and it's constantly in the back of my mind -- can we do better," Mayor John Curtis said.

Scott Henderson, assistant director of parks and recreation, oversees Covey Center operations. He said the city has put a subsidy reduction program in place and says it is not only working but makes the Covey Center one of the least dependent municipal art centers in the country.

"One thing that shocked us is we thought the city would be doing more at the Covey," Henderson said. He included things like the mayor's concert series. However, that is not the case. "There has been such a wave of city users, more than we ever thought. It shows Provo residents react to a new and exciting building."

Some naysayers are concerned the Covey Center is not run efficiently and is overstaffed for the amount of work they are doing. Henderson disagrees.

"We have so few full-time staff," Henderson said. "We have a full-time director, a marketing director, a box office director and two full-time technical personnel. We need them because we run six days a week." Even in the spring and summer when people go outdoors for entertainment the Covey Center is busy with numerous recitals.

During Tuesday's municipal council meeting the council voted to give another $51,000 in subsidies because a major client had opened a dance studio and had stopped renting space which equalled $30,000. The other $21,000 is helping the overall reduction in ticket sales.

Deputy Mayor Corey Norman said, "We absolutely have confidence in Scott. He always finds the balance between value and the need for arts." Norman added that the city is not always driven by dollars but by the quality of life things like the arts bring to residents. The Covey Center brings added value and they have been successful in their adding to the community.

In thinking back to the center's best and worst moments Henderson said, "The best moment was the excitement associated with the Kenny Loggins concert. There was high energy and a lot of fun with the connection of 'Footloose' being filmed here. Our worst moment was at the opening gala. I was in charge of the indoor fireworks. It basically smoked out the entire audience."

He adds that they probably should have cleared the auditorium.

Then there was the red chair debacle. The first event before the Covey Center opened the regional ballet used the facility. The ballerinas were all dressed in beautiful white costumes and sat in the new chairs waiting for their turn to dance. When they stood up their backsides were smudged red or shades of pinks from the dye in the chairs. All of the auditorium chairs had to be reupholstered, and in the meantime they had to cover the chairs in plastic for the first concert featuring Neal McCoy.

"There was a lot of sense of humor," Henderson said. "Neal said, referring to the plastic-covered seats, it was the first time he had given a concert where the audience was sitting on his grandma's couch."

Whether for better or worse, Provo city and its residents have agreed to a marriage of sorts to the center and its programs. And like a spouse or child with an empty wallet, the city is obliged to keep the center financially solvent, as it works on ways to make it financially independent.

While that day may never come, the mayor and Henderson stand by what the arts are doing for the city and for what the Covey Center means to the community and the downtown area.

-- Genelle Pugmire covers Provo City, Provo School District, Orem City, UDOT’s I-15 CORE Project. She also tackles variety of other topics including business features.
Read more from Genelle Pugmire here.