Sources confirm that the Arts Enter Board of Directors has rejected Clelia Sheppard’s proposal to take on the sinking Palace Theatre. According one member the Sheppard proposal was very robust and forward thinking, however, the Board rejected it, and according to sources decided to take a wait and see approach for six months to see if the theatre could be turned around. The Shepherd proposal would have tied the Palace to GEAR (Global Exchange Arts Roundtable), leveraging and exposing it to the same international funding and resources that Experimental Film Virginia accesses. While GEAR, alongside Experimental Film Virginia has worked very hard to reestablish ties with the artistic community across the bay, the hope was to bring the Palace back into the fold.
While there has been some clutter tossed around the bank and the mortgage no one seems to be sure what that is. Sources on the Board tell the Mirror that leading factions are going to block the sale to Sheppard no matter what. Sources also tell the Mirror that they worry some segments of the Board have already made the decision to off-load the Palace to commercial interests.
Sources on the Arts Enter Board told the Mirror that shutting down the Sheppard proposal came as an unexpected shock to other members. They also say that a small number of members communicate offline, in groups small enough not to constitute a meeting, come up with a game plan, and then lock it in at the Board meetings. The Board never circulates pre-reads or an agenda so it is hard to come prepared to discuss issues, and when the vote does come, members find themselves having to make decisions on the fly– with the rest of the Board staring them down. The Arts Enter Board meetings are rigidly private, and the group refuses to release minutes to the public.
The news of the proposal rejection comes at a time when under the leadership of the current board, the financial status is questionable.
For the arts community, many that have been in and around the theatre since Clelia Sheppard brought it back to life, working with her and a new partnership with GEAR represented a fresh start, the next phase of community driven arts in Cape Charles. The phrase ‘Small Town, Big Art’ offered a hopeful roadmap for the future.
Ms. Sheppard told the Mirror, “We started this many years ago as a community focused arts project…when we worked for Arts Enter to bring the theatre…back to life, we envisioned it as integral to the town…part of the community. Our efforts today are the same, to make sure that it is a community asset, opened to everyone…but, at its heart, it is meant to be a place for the performing arts…”
Note: Over the years, the Sheppard family has spent a large amount of their own money to restore and maintain the Historic Palace Theatre.
A marginally inebriated conversation with a member of the business community did provide some perspective, “You still don’t get it, do you? You’re naïve, you think these people, or anybody around here really cares about you, or Clelia or this theatre, or arts and dance and all that crap…look at that building. Look where it’s located. Right dead in the heart of the business district, and since the town only allows commercial development on Mason, this is prime real estate. There are people around here that think what you, and the rest of you are doing is a big waste. Some of them are on the Arts Enter Board. This property, just so kids get up and dance on the stage? They chopped up your old school (laugh), they’ll do it here too. You watch.”
“This starting to make too much sense.”
“Whatever happens…They get it…it fails, and then what? Then they get what they’ve wanted all along—privatize it, cut it up and sell it. Some of the usual suspects have been seen around the theatre again. I’ve heard discussions with some of them have started again too (laugh). There are people that really want to get their hands on this property. These guys…they’re not going away. But you probably will be though (laugh).”
A Board member has confirmed that business entities have once again been in contact with some members, and have been on ‘private’ tours of the theatre.
Tabling the Sheppard proposal while focusing on a patchwork set of programming efforts without a firm artistic vision, as well as neglecting to cement ties with the regional performing arts patrons and organizations appears to be an effort to accelerate the inevitable. The overarching concern is what will happen to the seventy or so dancers and actors that call the theatre their second home if the doors are closed to them?
Leveraging the national, international and regional influence of GEAR, and the endowment backbone that comes with it, seems like a common sense and worthy effort to not only financially restructure, but to reestablish the Cape Charles artistic community by rejuvenating frayed ties with regional, as well as international organizations. That notion may be, like the man said, naïve— the New Cape Charles appears to have a different future in mind for the Historic Palace Theatre.