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posted: 5/30/2014 1:01 AM

Editorial: Arlington Heights downtown theater at crossroad

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  • The Metropolis Performing Arts Centre has a high profile in downtown Arlington Heights.

      The Metropolis Performing Arts Centre has a high profile in downtown Arlington Heights.
    Daily Herald file photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board

So where does the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre go from here?

The latest executive director, Charlie Beck, is gone. A very capable interim director, Neil Scheufler, has agreed to come on to manage the theater's upcoming season as the board searches for a new director.

But as anyone who has followed the fortunes of Metropolis knows, the future of the downtown Arlington Heights performing arts center is frustratingly uncertain. While new leadership can be expected to bring a sense of renewed hope and promise, a new executive director alone will not turn this ship around.

While the board's primary job at this juncture is to hire the new director, everyone involved with Metropolis also must look hard at the theater's business model, since the venue hasn't been able to achieve the financial stability it needs to make artistic stability a given.

That model calls for major philanthropic support -- accounting for as much as 40 to 60 percent of its budget.

But dogging Metropolis since day one has been its inability to attract the donors it needs to support that vision. That inability has led to serious cutbacks in programming.

This leaves Metropolis at a crossroads, giving the board two main choices that we can see.

On one path, the new executive director can continue to search for those donors -- or one major donor -- whose generosity would allow the performing arts center to remain a professional theater, supplemented by ticket sales, smaller donations, and revenue from the School of the Performing Arts.

The other path, of finding other revenue sources or partners, leads Metropolis in a different direction, possibly away from being strictly a professional theater. Some possibilities: Making the theater an almost entirely tax-supported agency, as other suburban arts venues have done; partnering with other theaters; or even turning Metropolis out of the theater entirely and finding a new tenant.

There are any number of opinions on what should happen next. We don't espouse one particular course of action, though we've long felt the theater is a strong asset to Arlington Heights' downtown vision and to the immediate region's entertainment options,

Perhaps, after 14 years of deficit operation, several executive directors, numerous boards and more than one stated artistic vision, the problems may not be rooted in the people but in the plan.

For Arlington Heights itself, the future of the performing arts center matters a great deal, and it is in the village's self-interest to play a bigger role than mere landlord to Metropolis.

The Metropolis building and theater, located as it is in downtown Arlington Heights, significantly contributes to the success and viability of the community. Even with its ups and downs, it continues to attract people to downtown Arlington Heights and into its restaurants, bars and shops.

The absence of Metropolis would be keenly felt, and in fact, doesn't bear thinking about. As Metropolis's ultimate support, the village is justified and has a responsibility to establish rules and a system for accountability, and we hope it moves in that direction.

Metropolis is a beautiful performing arts center, waiting to be used to its best and highest potential. Considering that, this is a time of great opportunity. We look forward to seeing the community and the board take advantage of it.

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