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Wharton rehired at Festival Hall

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

Rick Wharton has been reinstated as the manager of Festival Hall.

Rick Wharton has been reinstated as the manager of Festival Hall.

Rick Wharton has been reinstated as Festival Hall's director.

In a press release issued Wednesday by the city of Pembroke on behalf of the consortium, it stated they have directly rehired Wharton as the director of Festival Hall Centre for the Arts.

"The public outcry in form of letters to the editor, phone calls, facebook posts and letters to the consortium, reflect the community's passionate support of this important institution," it states. "Hired by the Valley Arts Council two years ago, Wharton is directly credited with reviving the venue. The elected Consortium members of Pembroke, Petawawa and Laurentian Valley have been working behind the scenes to ensure Festival Hall remains open."

This caps a tumultuous couple of months which first saw the dynamic and popular entertainment manager dismissed from his post in May by the VAC, who managed the hall under contract. The official explanation from the VAC at the time was Festival Hall wasn't generating enough revenue to sustain itself, so they had to make some tough staffing decisions.

The VAC itself parted ways with the Festival Hall consortium in June following a meeting called between the two parties. It has been implied public outrage over the decision sparked the meeting, which concluded with both sides agreeing to break the contract between them, and the three member municipalities of the consortium - Pembroke, Petawawa and Laurentian Valley Township - deciding to take over running Festival Hall for the time being.

Wharton himself said he is eager to put all of this behind him and get back to work.

"There will be some repair work to be done to ensure the continued support of user groups, sponsors, volunteers, audience members and taxpayers, and some healing for my family," he stated in the press release.

"I have been blown away by the level of support from the community and I will prove myself to be worthy."

"The centre will be bigger and better than ever. I am committed fully to the theatre and the audience. There is a great economic development opportunity here that has and will be realized."

"In future, all drama will be left for the stage only."

According to Consortium members Coun. Gary Severin, Murray Rutz and Jim Sheedy, a new operational model will be developed including business, strategic and marketing plans that will ensure all revenues generated from Festival Hall will remain in Festival Hall to be used in support of the venue.

Severin, speaking on behalf of the consortium, stated they are also ready to move forward.

"This experience has shown the community how an important a cultural jewel, Festival Hall, is to our region," he said.

"Moving forward, it is critical that the community buy tickets to events and consider becoming patrons and sponsors as well if the organization is to remain viable and thrive, which we all believe it can and will."

Work is to begin immediately to connect with visual artists in the Gallery, with plans for summer art and performance workshops and markets by the end of the month.

Wharton is already busy starting the process of booking acts and the return of the widely popular Valley Doc Fest documentary festival, set for late September.

A red carpet gala is in the works too, complete with celebrity entertainers, which will become an annual fundraising event as part of the Patron of the Arts program. It is hoped some sort of partnership with Algonquin College and local schools to get the younger generation involved and exposed to the arts.

Support staff and volunteers are expected to return in the fall when the box office will be open full time. Festival Hall's website and facebook pages will also be resurrected soon. Messages can also be left at 613-735-2182.

Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

stephen.uhler@sunmedia.ca


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