Thursday, November 17, 2005

Interlochen Backs Out

Interlochen backs out


Photo: Record-Eagle/Tyler Sipe

Interlochen Center for the Arts no longer plans to run the State Theatre in downtown Traverse City.

TRAVERSE CITY - Interlochen Center for the Arts no longer plans to run the State Theatre as a performance place, and several groups are negotiating the future of the historic movie house.

The front-runner could be the Traverse City Film Festival. The State was the marquee venue last summer for the first film festival. It budgeted $1 million next year for the "purchase, operation or renovation" of the Front Street theater, according to festival co-founder Doug Stanton.

"That would be our hope, but negotiations are ongoing, and we just need to be positive," Stanton said.

The State currently is owned by the nonprofit State Theatre Group, which in 2003 announced a partnership with Interlochen. The plan was to raise $6.5 million in 12 months to upgrade the theater to allow for many types of entertainment and live performances.

The funding hasn't materialized and Interlochen backed away from its plan to run it once renovated.

"It appears to us the resources to create the multiple-use performing arts center and the momentum for that do not exist at this time," Interlochen spokesman Paul Heaton said.

Interlochen is still involved in planning for the theater's future and hopes to use it for some performances, Heaton said.

The State Theatre Group, Interlochen, Rotary Charities of Traverse City, the film festival and the Traverse Symphony Orchestra are among those discussing what's next.

"We are all talking and trying to figure out what is going to work best," said Marsha Smith, Rotary's executive director.

The orchestra hoped to make the theater its new home if the full plan had been instituted.

The orchestra board hasn't ruled it out, but Interlochen's diminished involvement "has resulted in a reassessment that is ongoing," TSO spokesman Andy Buelow said.

State Theatre Group chairman Charles Judson said the owners are trying to "put together a plan" and won't actively fundraise until it does. The group is out of cash, Smith said.

"Everybody is being very cooperative," Judson said. "We definitely want there to be a future for it. We're trying to reach a shared vision."

Rotary gave $750,000 in grants to the State project to date, said Smith. It holds a $250,000 lien on the building.

City records placed a $670,000 value on the theater and the property in 1996. It has not been assessed since then because of its nonprofit status.

Film festival spokeswoman Tracy Kurtz said the festival invested more than $250,000 in donated materials and labor to spruce up the theater for the festival's inaugural run.

The festival envisions using the State to show movies, host concerts and provide a venue for other arts groups, Stanton said.

"The theater can be an incredibly attractive magnet for downtown and benefit the entire community," he said.

The festival's plans for the theater are "simple, small and local," he added.

"We are really excited about the opportunity to preserve this important downtown landmark," Stanton said.

I must be psychic!

Seriously, though, this is for the best. Interlochen doesn't have what it takes to make the State the sort of grassroots, hip, funky, more-with-less operation. The Arts Center folks may have some experience along the "more with less" lines, but their legacy is high art. Their programming selections have consistently run to very well established Arts Center fodder (with a few exceptions, what you see booked at Interlochen is the same "certified by the cultural elites" stuff you see booked at Arts Centers everywhere). Their image is, quite frankly, somewhat snobbish. Grassroots, hip and funky they are not.

The film festival on the other hand has some promise as a platform on which other community groups might put together a program (or programs) that will both bring the people in and give them something that goes beyond standard issue high culture.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Michael Moore to Buy TC's State Theater?

As Traverse City readers will already know, Michael Moore held a successful film festival here in Traverse City last summer, but he's been running into some trouble lining up venues for a repeat performance next year.

Some time back I wrote this about Moore and the State Theater:
In 1996, plans were announced to convert the theater and the former Kurtz Music building next door into a $6.9 million community arts and performance complex.
A legal dispute between the State Theatre Group and Barry Cole, who donated the building to the group, held up the project and it was scaled back to $4.6 million before it again stalled.

In 2003, the State Theatre Group and Interlochen Center for the Arts announced a partnership to renovate it. [Interlochen's contribution being . . . no cash whatsoever and two years of nothing much happening.]

The group has about $6.5 million yet to raise for the $10 million renovation, Interlochen spokesman Paul Heaton said. [The preceding from the TC Record-Eagle. ]

Back in 2003 the big excitement was that the Interlochen Arts Academy was partnering with the Sate Theater group to get this project rolling.

Two years and nothing happened until Michael Moore came along.

One has to wonder what's going on with the people supposedly in charge of this potentially quite valuable space. Why is the famously self-serving Interlochen now being given power over the space when they refuse to invest any money in it and seem to have so little power to re-invigorate the project.

Why does TC think that having an Interlochen outpost in town is such a grand thing for the city (as opposed to Interlochen itself)? Aside from providing a home for the Symphony Orchestra--which I and the vast majority of area residents have zero interest in--what is the vision for this place? How can it be made to be a community resource aside from handing it over (for nothing!) to an Arts academy that has never shown any real interest in the local community.

Perhaps we ought to consider turning the thing over to Moore, who has an equal reputation for being self-serving, but who can at least get some things done.Well, it seems that there's to be an announcement of an "acquisition" by the Traverse City Film Festival (otherwise known as Michael Moore) tomorrow morning.

I'm betting they bought the State. And I'm hoping that this will end Interlochen's tie to the theatre, as well. Interlochen booking the State Theatre is no blessing: just look at how unimaginative their own festival booking has been over the past several years. An Interlochen logowear store is no blessing to the State Theatre. And effectively selling tickets doesn't take genius, it just takes the promise of profit.

A film-festival-led effort to completely take over this facility, though, could be a wonderful thing for the community. Imagine this facility with strong links to a wide-range of local and grassroots organizations through town: the food co-op, churches, political organizations, the community radio station, TCTV 2, the library, 54-40 or Fight, the locally-owned bookstore . . .

This could really be something if Moore is willing to risk his prospects of getting into Traverse City's Rotary Club (seriously, he really seems to want to learn the TC secret handshake!).


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Sex or Death?

No, it's not another Woody Allen film. It's the dilemma faced by social conservatives with the development of a vaccine against the sexually-transmitted virus responsible for most cervical cancer. Surprisingly, many don't seem to see the dilemma: Death before sex, any day! (Unless of course the sex in question is just to propagate the species and no fun is involved and everyone is married to everyone else.)

A Traverse City area physician (Dr. Meg Meeker) was at the forefront of bringing the HPV virus to public attention, which was a good thing. However, Dr. Meeker persistently overstated the risks the virus posed, and I always strongly suspected that her real objective was to discourage pre-marital sex, and that she secretly looked upon HPV as a heaven-sent stratagem to keep people from having sex for the fun of it.

Well, I haven't heard what Meeker thinks, but other conservatives definitely seem less than thrilled with the recent development of an HPV vaccine. So concerned are they for the moral purity of our womanhood, they'd rather they die of cancer than send a subtle message that sex is OK.

I think if Meeker is really just the concerned doctor she tries to pass herself off as, she'll condemn these heartless prudes in no uncertain terms.

Cervical Cancer Vaccine Gets Injected With a Social Issue
Some Fear a Shot For Teens Could Encourage Sex
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 31, 2005; A03

A new vaccine that protects against cervical cancer has set up a clash between health advocates who want to use the shots aggressively to prevent thousands of malignancies and social conservatives who say immunizing teenagers could encourage sexual activity.
Although the vaccine will not become available until next year at the earliest, activists on both sides have begun maneuvering to influence how widely the immunizations will be employed.
Groups working to reduce the toll of the cancer are eagerly awaiting the vaccine and want it to become part of the standard roster of shots that children, especially girls, receive just before puberty.
Because the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted virus, many conservatives oppose making it mandatory, citing fears that it could send a subtle message condoning sexual activity before marriage. Several leading groups that promote abstinence are meeting this week to formulate official policies on the vaccine.
In the hopes of heading off a confrontation, officials from the companies developing the shots -- Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline -- have been meeting with advocacy groups to try to assuage their concerns.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Local Currency

The following guest editorial just appeared in the local paper:

Bay Bucks is one truly bad idea

In the Record Eagle's Oct. 16 edition, the community was introduced to the concept of "Bay Bucks." The idea of Bay Bucks is to circulate a local currency in competition with the U.S. dollar that is only accepted by local merchants and force the holders of Bay Bucks to buy locally. While encouraging local citizens to buy from local merchants is a great goal, using Bay Bucks is a bad idea.

The United States government and the U.S. Department of Treasury devote considerable efforts to fight the counterfeiting of the U.S. dollar.
Hold up a $20 bill to the light and notice all of the measures used to fight counterfeiting. U.S. Treasury agents hunt down counterfeiters and throw them in jail. Any high school student with a color copier can counterfeit Bay Bucks! Will any law enforcement agency stop the counterfeiting of Bay Bucks?

As a consumer, if you own Bay Bucks you cannot use them to pay federal taxes, Michigan taxes or local property taxes. You can't pay mortgage payments, car payments, credit card payments, insurance payments, utility bills or rent payments. No major grocery store or gas station accepts Bay Bucks, so you can't buy groceries or gasoline. You can't deposit Bay Bucks into your checking account.

Bay Bucks will be a burden, not a benefit, to local merchants. The accounting systems of local merchants are not designed to process an alternative currency.
The typical local merchant deposits his currency receipts into his bank account every day. Then the merchant uses his bank account to pay employees, suppliers, landlords, etc.

Any local business collecting Bay Bucks will have to set aside that currency and then look for suppliers who are willing to accept the Bay Bucks currency. Warning: If you own a local business, don't agree to accept Bay Bucks until after you speak to your CPA or accountant about the cost and risk of accepting Bay Bucks.

If a local currency helped local businesses, every state in the union would issue its own currency. All of us in America benefit from having one currency, protected by the power of the United States of America.

None of the respected local institutions have endorsed Bay Bucks. There is no regulation by local government. There is no endorsement by the Chamber of Commerce. There is no clearinghouse by local banks.

The promoters of Bay Bucks will go into our community and sell these nearly useless pieces of paper to our citizens in exchange for real U.S. currency. What a deal! What are they going to do with the real money?

If we want to support local merchants (and we should) then we should buy their products and services with real U.S. dollars and we should give the waiters and waitresses real money, not pretend money, when we leave a tip.
Bay Bucks is a bad idea.

Now, I am far from thinking that Bay Bucks are going to have a huge positive impact on Northern Michigan, but Cline really ought to get his facts straight before sounding off on Bay Bucks.

For one thing: US currency has, up until very recently been widely reputed to be the most easily counterfeited in the world. I have both a ten and a twenty in my pocket right now that have zero security measures visible when I hold them up to the light.

Can any high school student make a color copy of a Bay Buck? Sure. But that student can just as well make a copy of a US twenty. And have just as much chance of getting away with passing it.

Bay Bucks DO include a number of security provisions, including being made of high quality paper, being difficult for color copiers to scan, and having a watermark. One wonders if Mr. Cline actually looked at a Bay Buck before writing his screed.

As for local businesses accepting the currency: there are, of course, considerations and provisions to be made in accepting an alternative currency. No one says otherwise.

As far as "respected local institutions go." Well, all local business are free to choose whether they want to take on the second currency in order to help out a local initiative. And Oryana Food Coop has chosen to do so. And amongst the folks likely to be interested in Bay Bucks, there's probably no more respected and heavily patronized business than that. I don't think anyone really cares whether Mr. Cline thinks the Bay Bucks buyers and sellers are a bunch of rabble. If Cline doesn't like Bay Bucks, he can decline to accept them and continue to congratulate himself on his irreproachable respectability.

Is a local currency a miracle cure for all of your local economic problems? Of course not: unless you are an economic crackpot, you see that there are benefits and drawbacks to local currencies (some have been pointed out by some economic heavies like Bernard Lietaer, former high official with the Belgian Central Bank. (Whom I do not agree with on many things, but the point is local currency is a matter on which intelligent people can disagree, rather than one on which ignorant people may scoff.)

As Mr. Lietaer points out, ALL money is "pretend money." The only thing that makes a little piece of ugly green paper with a plastic strip in it from the US government worth something is that most everyone has agreed that to pretend it is. It's all based on human opinion, as the founding fathers of economics tirelessly pointed out many many years ago.

Mr. Cline really ought to read some Adam Smith before waxing philosophic.

Here's a wikipedia article on "complementary currencies"