Local performing arts groups are asking for first refusal on the hundreds of 'musical chairs' stored at Fort Regent, after the Government confirmed that they haven't been sold, but hinted they could be in the near future.
Last week, the Jersey Green Room Theatre Company and the Jersey Amateur Dramatic Club (JADC) shared their concerns that the chairs may have been sold off as part of plans to clear out Fort Regent, without the body representing performing arts in Jersey being consulted.
However, the Government has since described the groups' claims as “inaccurate”, but did not deny that they may be sold off in future.
“The chairs have not been sold and they are still available for hire,” a statement signed off by the Minister for Economic Development, Tourism, Sport and Culture, Deputy Kirsten Morel, said.
“There have been discussions over the future of the chairs in the light of current plans to move facilities out of the Fort but at this point no decision has been taken.”
Ryan Williams, who chairs both the Green Room Club and the Performing Arts Development Group, said the statement has not provided the clarity performing arts groups were seeking over the future of the chairs, which they said have been important in helping create seating at alternative venues while the Opera House remains closed.
Pictured: Ryan Williams chairs both the Green Room Club and PADG.
“The Government made a public announcement that the chairs had not been sold, but this wasn’t our understanding,” he explained.
“We heard a lot of local hear say from people who had seen those chairs on Facebook or heard they had been sold so I decided to contact the Government to get clarity and said ‘I am hearing those local rumours’. We tried getting clarity through various channels but we were not getting it.
“We are putting down to miscommunication. I tried for two months to get clarity on the situation and the response was very much ‘this decision is not made by us, it’s made by another department’. The press release kind of confirmed that.”
Mr Williams said the “very careful wording” of the statement didn’t allay concerns over the potential future sale of the chairs.
“They are saying we can still rent at this time, which is great,” he said. “But when I spoke to Fort Regent while I was away last week, because they contacted me directly, they said there will be a decision after September on what will happen to the Fort Regent equipment.”
Pictured: "We still do not have an end date on when the Opera House will open," Mr Williams said.
Mr Williams says the PADG has invited both Deputy Morel and Paul Milbank, the Policy Lead for Arts, Culture, Heritage and Sport, to their next meeting in September. They hope they will then be able to get more information about the situation.
In the meantime, the PADG has pleaded with the Government to contact them first before selling to a private buyer.
“They said they will keep us informed but we all know that what happens behind closed doors is a different thing,” Mr Williams said.
“The Government’s press release made it sound like ours was inaccurate, but we have got emails to say otherwise. It sounds like they have delayed the decision to sell them. It is in the pipeline and we tried to get clarity but there is a lack of communication.
“We have asked them to please consider the clubs before making a decision. We’ve said, ‘You will be selling those chairs at some point, please do not sell them to a private buyer, support the local arts’. Fingers crossed they do come to us.”
Mr Williams said the GRC and JADC have already agreed to jointly invest in the chairs if there’s an opportunity to buy them and share them as they host shows at different times of the year.
“The chairs to the Government seem very insignificant but if we put on a show at the Royal Showground and we do not have chairs, we’ve got no income, we’ve got no shows,” Mr Williams explained.
“We cannot use the Opera House due to a lack of investment over the past 20 years. They are helping us by giving us those chairs at a very reduced rate, but we still do not have an end date on when the Opera House will open.”
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