Provincial funding for pandemic-stricken Port Dover theatre

·3 min read

The province is sending some pandemic relief money to Lighthouse Festival Theatre in Port Dover to help the cultural institution get back on its feet.

Lighthouse will receive $71,858 through the government’s Arts Recovery Support Fund.

Lisa MacLeod, the minister overseeing the province’s tourism and cultural industries, announced the funding this week as part of a $25-million package for artists and arts organizations in Ontario.

“Ontario’s arts sector was among the first and hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a ‘high-touch’ sector that depends on gatherings of people, and will take the longest to recover,” MacLeod said in a statement.

Reopening venues like Lighthouse “will play an important role in the mental health and well-being of Ontarians and an equally important role in the province’s economic and social recovery,” MacLeod said.

The funding was available for organizations and individuals who already receive grants through the Ontario Arts Council. Venues with operating budgets of over $1 million automatically qualified.

“We’re so grateful for it, and we’re thrilled,” said Lighthouse executive director Nicole Campbell. “The government recognizes the arts and culture industry as being devastated during this time, with not being able to open for the last year.”

Lighthouse closed its doors in mid-March of last year, which meant scrapping the entire summer season, the popular community show starring local amateur actors, and a crowded slate of off-season events.

It added up to “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in lost revenue, Campbell said.

While the provincial money will help — as will almost $215,000 brought in by a summertime fundraising campaign — Campbell cautioned that there are more financial and logistical hurdles to overcome before the theatre can welcome patrons back.

“We don’t want anyone to think that just by receiving this money, we can reopen,” she said. “With the regulations, up until a few weeks ago we couldn’t have anyone in the building. So we keep having to adapt.”

One challenge for Lighthouse is even the loosest of the province’s COVID-19 restrictions means “severe revenue limitations,” Campbell explained, because a theatre that usually fits 350 patrons is limited to 50 per show.

When Lighthouse can reopen is of keen interest to restaurants, hotels and bed and breakfasts throughout the region that rely on the theatre to bring in customers, as mentioned by Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett in the funding announcement.

“This is quite welcome news for our Lighthouse Festival Theatre and all who enjoy its offerings,” Barrett said.

“Lighthouse Theatre is an anchor for our area’s visitor-based economy.”

Campbell expects to make an announcement about the summer season in the next few months.

“We’re waiting as long as we can to announce anything,” she said, explaining that she and artistic director Derek Ritschel are mulling over scenarios that will ensure the safety of artists, patrons and staff.

“We can pretty confidently say that we’re going to have theatre this summer,” Campbell said. “We just have a few different options of what it’ll look like.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator