EDITOR'S NOTE: This article originally ran Nov. 16, 2023.
Burlington Performing Arts Centre (BPAC) continues to be successful operationally, but behind closed doors, it looks like there are some difficulties
There has been turnover of volunteer board members in recent times. For instance, they’ve been without a board vice-chairman for more than a year and they're currently without a chairman. The former chair, Nancy Brewer, served a two-year term then stepped in twice to fill the role during the pandemic.
Council heard Tuesday about the issues after Ward 6 councillor Angelo Bentivegna, who sits on the board, brought forward a motion that BPAC continue its lease with the city, but undergo an independent governance review. BPAC currently operates from the city-owned facility at 440 Locust St.
BPAC is significantly funded by taxpayers. The City provides tax-supported funding annually to it, and the 2024 budget proposes an operating grant of $1,102,006 and a $63,200 capital contribution for BPAC.
“We haven't had board executive roles filled,” BPAC executive director Tammy Fox told council. “So there hasn't been a succession plan, hence why we are without a board chair or vice chair.”
Fox said she is an ardent advocate of the arts and, as such, supports a review of BPAC’s governance structure.
“During my tenure, we've transformed challenges into triumphs, and the recognition we've earned is not just accolades for our mantle piece, but a reflection of our collective heartbeat,” she said during her delegation.
She conceded, however, that it’s at a critical point.
“At BPAC, we are at a crossroads where our governance must evolve to meet the dynamic goals of our vision and our mission,” she said, adding a revitalization will be more aligned with its strategies.
And while she wouldn’t say BPAC is troubled, she said it could use this opportunity to shine.
“This is not about fixing what is broken, but about elevating what is already exceptional,” she said. “There are strategic opportunities knocking at our door, like expanding our collaboration and partnerships with organizations like the Burlington Sound of Music Festival and Sheridan College's Performing Arts programs.
“These are golden opportunities, yet our current governance has hesitated, when it should leap.”
Fox said substantial resources have been invested in updating the strategic plan, including the board’s best practices.
“Our board has struggled with recruitment, healthy board turnover, and executive succession planning,” she admitted. “These governance challenges are affecting our ability to continue with operational excellence.”
Ward 5 councillor Paul Sharman summed up her statements more briefly.
“As you look into the future, you see a bigger opportunity than is presently reflected in the plans you have and that the governance model needs to be modified to implement those,” he said.
Fox agreed, adding that BPAC is 13 years into its operation, and while they've done a fabulous job, the board is struggling.
“I think this is a great opportunity to update those bylaws and manuals,” said Fox, who’s been BPAC’s executive director for six years.
Rick Burgess, a BPAC board member who in the past served two terms as BPAC board chair and is a current nominee, (all volunteer positions) told council the board had attempted to circulate a signed resolution to fill those positions, but some members chose not to sign, so an election wasn’t held.
“Given that we had one business day's notice of the motion (to council) we were unable to gather our board together," he said.
Further, he said the board is unaware of any governance issues.
“We've been unable to prepare a reasoned, thoughtful and collective response to the motion, so I can't bring that to you today,” Burgess said. “The second reason is the motion states that we have governance issues, but they've not been identified to us either in the motion or otherwise.
“Without that information, it's impossible for us to either acknowledge or refute or perhaps provide context to the allegations,” he said. “This clearly indicates a lack of fundamental fairness in the city's approach to this matter. And so I ask that the consideration of the motion be deferred to another date.”
City manager Tim Commisso reminded council that despite issues the board might be having, BPAC continues to perform well and operationally, it is successful.
Council agreed to an independent governance review, paid for by BPAC, that will start at the end of November and be completed by the end of March.