The Cultch wants West Coast Reduction’s name on York Theatre

The York Theatre is set to receive a $2-million donation from West Coast Reduction Ltd. if city council approves an amendment to the sign bylaw that would recognize the contribution.

For the Cultch (formerly the Vancouver East Cultural Centre), which operates the newly reopened Commercial Drive theatre, the sponsorship signifies the largest donation in the performance space’s history.

“Most people don’t know this, but they are incredibly generous community supporters and donors, and especially in the East Vancouver neighbourhood,” Heather Redfern, the executive director of the Cultch, told the Georgia Straight by phone. She noted that West Coast Reduction has been supporting the Cultch for 20 years, including acting as its title sponsor for the past three years.

Redfern said the $2-million donation will help the Cultch maintain the York Theatre and contribute to the long-term sustainability of both the York and the Cultch.

“Normally, these larger donations go toward capital costs, so actually building buildings,” she noted. “The fantastic, wonderful, visionary thing about this gift from West Coast Reduction is that it’s actually about sustaining and operating, and that is huge, because those are the hardest dollars in this business to raise.”

But some community members are opposed to the plan to recognize the company’s sponsorship on a sign outside the city-owned theatre. East Vancouver resident Blair Redlin intends to raise his concern at a public hearing next week at City Hall.

“They’re a bad neighbour; they’re a significant polluter. They have made the hottest days of the summer miserable for hundreds of people for many years,” Redlin told the Straight by phone. “It doesn’t seem right to reward them by plastering their name up on the side of a new cultural facility.”

According to Ray Robb, the regulation and enforcement division manager with Metro Vancouver, a total of 469 air-quality complaints were received about West Coast Reduction in 2012, which he said was more than usual. In 2011, Metro received a low of 134 complaints, compared to 290 in 2010 and 452 in 2009.

Robb said most of the odour complaints were filed from northeast Vancouver.

“We have other complaint sources where it travels further, but this is quite localized,” he told the Straight by phone.

According to Barry Glotman, the president and CEO of West Coast Reduction Ltd., the company spends millions of dollars to ensure that the rendering plant—which recycles inedible animal byproducts from the meat-, poultry-, and fish-processing industries—has minimal impact on the neighbourhood.

“We’ve been operating at that location now for 50 years,” Glotman said in a phone interview. “We play a major role, a positive role from an environmental perspective, but, yes, we do understand that some people do complain about the odours, and we take it seriously.”

He added that the $2-millon donation is “not something that the ownership of West Coast Reduction takes lightly”.

“When Heather [Redfern] was putting this together and they were building it and looking for some funding, we just thought it was a unique opportunity to play a major role,” Glotman said. “We think that it’s a great organization. We support a lot of other organizations in the neighbourhood that we work in, and it’s something that we continue to do.”

Some community members, such as arts activist Tom Durrie, are applauding the proposed contribution from the company.

“There’s not a lot of money in Vancouver, private money, going into support of the arts,” Durrie told the Straight by phone. “And so this is what we need, and I think this was very respectful and extremely well done. I have no problems with it whatsoever, and in fact I give them three cheers for their generosity.”

A survey on the issue is being completed, including 500 samplings citywide and 300 in the Grandview-Woodland area, according to Vancouver cultural-services director Margeret Specht.

Under the current proposal, the $2-million donation would be recognized by naming the stage at the York Theatre after West Coast Reduction.

City staff are recommending an amendment to the sign bylaw for the York Theatre to permit “one fascia sign containing reference to their corporate sponsor, and two canopy signs over the main entrance containing automatic changeable copy and reference to their corporate sponsor”.

Out of more than 80 emails and comment forms received on the subject, 74 percent indicated support for the signage proposal, according to a staff report issued in December. Of those who didn’t support it, 13 percent were opposed to the particular corporate sponsor, nine percent objected to corporate sponsorship being recognized on exterior signs, and 10 percent were concerned about the potential impact of the sign illumination on nearby homes.

Jak King, the president of the Grandview-Woodland Area Council, is among the East Vancouver residents opposed to the proposal out of concern for what he called “the commodification” of the street.

“I don’t think we need to sell our signs to companies in that way,” he told the Straight by phone.

But Redfern noted that although “there’s always the odd naysayer,” for the most part the response she has received has been supportive.

“Essentially, it’s been really enthusiastic support from the neighbourhood,” she said. “Some people asking some questions, wanting some more information, but it’s been very positive.”

The public hearing on the proposed bylaw amendment is scheduled for Tuesday (January 21) at 6 p.m.

Comments (28) Add New Comment
Something smells about this
As a Commercial Drive resident who suffers every summer from the stench of that rendering plant, I question whether the new 'neighbourhood theatre' should be hooking up with a company that's such a bad 'neighbour'. I like how West Coast Reduction always points out it's been there for 50 years, like being there 'first' gives them the right to make Grandview smell like dead things.
Rating: -14
I used to like the Cultch...
... but lately they have become meglomaniacs. Small but good is okay. A neighbourhood theater does not need to grow until it loses its soul.
Rating: -22
Michael Puttonen
Renting a lighted billboard on Hastings for 40 years would likely cost WCR the same $2 million. Instead WCR pays the Cultch the $2 million to be their billboard.

I speculate that WCR in their heart-of-hearts neither want, nor do they need a billboard but the the City has made them aware that in Vancouver you can "do well by doing good."

The fact that on a hot summer day WCR might as well be a stinking charnal house must overshadow any chatter about philanthropy. WCR is run by nice people, they feel bad about near 500 compaints last year, but they should now be assisted in finding a more appropriate Vancouver neighbourhood - say, make some land available to them on easy terms...under the IronWorkers Memorial bridge.

Nonetheless, this $2million well spent by WCR on naming rights alone. "WestCoast Reduction Stage" has a ring to it.

I must confess that I don't see why the City didn't roll up their sleeves and solve this half-century stink, since they intend to re-zone and redevelop the whole neighbourhood? Why the hell not do a little due diligence and figure out how to trade WCR some City land in a more appropriate location for this grand and most welcome $2 million dollar to the Cultch? I mean, why doesn't this City take opportunities like this to derive a REAL community amenity?

...Actually, I do know why. This way...just, well, turning the York into a billboard...the City is returning precisely nothing to nobody. Just doing what they do, orchestrating another charade that costs the taxpayer nothing and in the taxpayer no benefit.

So, let's review: It is good the Cultch gets $2million. But the quid pro quo could have been WCR moves to a more appropriate site, facilitated by the City.

The City is at fault here folks. There is only one villain in this cast: the City of Vancouver, staff and council.

The neighbourhood would have derived real benefit. Instead, the neighbourhood gets a lighted billboard that neither they nor the York nor WCR need.

Rating: -7
Grandview-Woodlands Resident
As a member of the Grandview-Woodlands community and a huge fan of the work The Cultch does, I'm thrilled that this opportunity has presented itself to such an important arts organization in Vancouver. Sustainability in the arts is no small achievement! As for having West Coast Reduction's name on the side of the building, I support this 100%, especially if it means The Cultch will be able to keep the doors open at the York Theatre. You can see for yourself on The Cultch's blog that the signage is subtle and tasteful:
Rating: +12
“I don’t think we need to sell our signs to companies in that way,"

Well umm, yeah, we do. Partnerships between creative non-profits and corporate sponsors are critical to the sustainability of ventures like the York, which creates more work for the many employees of the theatre and brings life (and foot traffic) to the neighborhood. The Cultch isn't "losing its soul" - it's protecting its future and the future of the many employees, artists, and patrons who value its presence. Take a look at the actual proposal - the signage is minimal, the light pollution issue has been addressed, and the sign will be off by 11PM nightly.
Rating: +15
Tall Glass of Water
Donating to keep theatre sustainable makes you a good neighbor, not a bad one.
Rating: +19
Sean Devine
I'm at a loss to understand the criticism being generated towards West Coast Reduction, a company that hardly needs publicity, and a company that has been a generous supporter of the arts (organizations big and small) for quite some time. I'm even more shocked at criticism being directed towards The Cultch, for its growth, no less. Here's a City that is losing infrastructure and landmarks everywhere, and there should be universal support for the Cultch's ambition, let alone its success in fulfilling its ambitions. Sure, WCR has a civic imprint and product that turns many people off, but at least they're doing something positive about it. How many private businesses aren't? Vancouverites should applaud this relationship between The Cultch and WCR: proof positive of a long-standing relationship between the private sector and the arts.
Rating: +17
Marcus Youssef
I'm a supporter. We hate the stink, and get it full on, but it's a local business, not a megacorp, and its a huge amount for private company to be donating to a cultural organization.
Rating: +18
Park Drive
"Stinky Stage" - has a great ring to it. No?

But then, corporate advertising on publicly funded facilities stinks. If the corporations or 1%ers want their name on something, pay for it - capital and operating expenses. Pay for the whole thing, not just a token that they then deduct from taxes.

If it is a 'donation' - just donate the money. If it is a bribe, put the cash in a manila envelope.
Rating: -5
Mr. East Van Man
I am a resident of the affected neighbourhood in question. I walk by the York Theatre on a daily basis. Not only is The Cultch making really positive, major strides in revitalizing the area with the York, but they have a rare opportunity with this sponsorship and sign to solidify The Cultch's financial operating bottom line for years to come. That will result in a huge, lasting benefit to the local community.

Similar types of sponsorship arrangements have been made with "cows more sacred" than The York. What about the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage? That's an official heritage building. From what I gather, that relationship has worked quite well for the Arts Club and the Granville / Broadway corridor.

There will always people who say "No" to things - especially in our edgy, artsy, thinking outside-the-box East Van community. But in our post-Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company era we need to be increasingly sensitive to the health and vitality of our arts and culture institutions, big and small. This sign is not a big deal, aesthetically. The corporate lettering is relatively small. But the impact is huge to the health and vitality to the arts. That is a big deal. I am a huge "YES" to the proposed sign and will continue to voice my support of The Cultch and the amazing things they are doing.
Rating: +8
Moo, Baa, La La La -- crunch!
Seriously: kudos to WCR for contributing meaningfully to the arts in their community and I am all for recognizing them with a sign and/or plaque and/or effusive large-type acknowledgment in every York Theatre program till the end of time. But come on, naming the STAGE for the company is over the top. Just think of the aesthetics around associating a place of artistic expression with a company that recycles dead livestock (among other things)! Cultch, WCR... rethink this. Neither of you really benefits from it and you are opening yourselves up to bad puns and mockery aplenty. Example, "Last night on the West Coast Reduction stage, [Theatre Co. X] and its performers offered renderings of [composer/playwright]'s [music/play] that were quite honestly offal."
Rating: +8
I appreciate corporate sponsorship and acknowledge it when appropriate.
I do not think you have to put a corporation's name in lights to be grateful for donations.
I think there has to be a line drawn to prevent visual pollution - you need the address and the name of the outside of the building; all other information, including all sponsor logos, can be on the inside.
Or if you want to advertise, pay for a bus shelter or buy an ad in the Straight.
Rating: -8
I'm all in favour of corporate sponsorship, but why do they need to get naming rights for their contribution? As currently designed essentially all corporations have many rights but few responsibilities. It's high time corporations started having more responsibilities and fewer rights. Giving that contribution of 2 million (why not make it 4 million while we're at it) and doing so anonymously would be the right thing to do.

What most commenters here fail to see is that once that corporation gets naming rights the public (people like you and me) will say "Hey cool, the corporations are doing our work for us--this means we can have our taxes cut; we don't personally need to support the arts." The city will follow suit and cut back on support for publicly funded arts and education. Society has a civic responsibility to support independent arts programming.

Also, what happens when someone wants to put on a play at The Cultch that criticizes our cruelty to animals? Will WCR really stand aside if it or its practices are being criticized? One of the roles of art is to criticize power. In 2014 all power IS corporate power. If WCR really believes in theatre then it should give anonymously and not breathe a word of what it is doing. To do anything else runs against the spirit of true art.

This naming rights thing smells fishy, and not in a nice way.
Rating: -8
Corbin Murdoch
Westcoast Reduction's continued contribution to the vitality of arts and culture in this city should be applauded. The partnership that they have forged with The Cultch over the last two decades is a perfect example of the kind of symbiotic relationship that can exist across sectors.

I am grateful to live in a city that limits corporate advertising in public space and appreciate full well the dangers of eroding those safe guards, but those concerns do not apply in this instance. We are talking about a local business receiving modest recognition for an unprecedented contribution to a beloved institution.

I hope that the Mayor and Council pass this amendment unanimously.
Rating: +7
Brenda Leadlay
For an arts organization to survive in Canada today, it has to form partnerships with business. I say hurray to West Coast Reduction and the Cultch for believing in the value of the arts to our society. where would we be without the arts?
Rating: -1
Sean Bickerton
I'm extremely sympathetic to the residents affected by odours and encourage WCR to go further in working to mitigate their impact on neighbours. No amount of advertising will overcome the bad publicity they receive otherwise.

But the Cultch as it stands today is nothing less than a miracle, and saving the York merely the latest confirmation of their creative genius. Very few people 20 years ago could have predicted the growth, impact and relevance of the Cultch to the entire city of Vancouver. Creative partnerships with business and private donors are crucial to ensuring its continued vibrancy into the future.

As a city we should be encouraging more of this kind of investment in our neighbourhoods and cultural institutions and I hope the Cultch is successful in obtaining approval for the sign they need to cement this one.

Rating: +2
Michael Puttonen
The issue is the City's relationship with its neighbourhoods. Soon, according to City plans, everything is gonna change between Commercial and Victoria Drive below Venables. The Cultch is, in the language of civic-redevelopment, merely "a willing partner". WCR, trapped in a city growing up around them, have provided a necessary service to city business, and are trying to be a good citizen.

WCR is making a $2 million contribution. But Wall Financial contributed less than $2 million to the Industrial Alliance restoration and they were awarded 70,000 square feet of bonus density (retailing at $1000 a sq ft) which they used to make the downtown Wall Centre even taller. For their contribution to the York, Wall Financial have received some 40,000 extra square feet in bonus density to be applied to other projects. That extra density is worth $25 to $40 million, retail.

Such civic largesse is not being showered upon WCR for their $2 million donation. That the City will accomodate WCR at their present location for a $2million donation to the Cultch is clear. The notion that with this billboard the City is returning WCR some value for that $2 million is just part of the "narrative". The City reps spend 70% of their time constructing their narratives, and the other 30% of their time selling their narratives. It's all narrative, narrative, narrative, all the time. This sign is not just a sign, it's a signifier: The City is working for you.

Rating: +2
Ruthie Tabata
It's a rare opportunity to have a corporation donate 2 MILLION dollars to the arts, so they deserve some recognition!
Rating: -2
The WISE Hall
We are 100% in support of the Cultch, and it's new venue the York, in their application for their exterior sign. The sign is appropriate for its location and the sponsorship mention is subtle. Without corporate sponsorship, the arts and culture sector would not exist in Vancouver. WCR's contribution to offset its impact on the neighbourhood by contributing to a positive and valuable component of the vibrant and diverse fabric of our community is commendable!
Rating: +1
Anne-Sophie Woolnough
I don't think a concern for the name of a building should outweigh the benefits of a $2 million donation to a non-profit charitable organization. Who cares what the building is called? Places like the York (and The Cultch) help create a vibrant and exciting city and can't be solely funded by municipal, provincial and federal dollars. There simply isn't enough government money to sustain these important organizations and I think it is honorable that a private company is stepping up and giving their support.
Rating: -4


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