Glendale Arts Mobilizing to Keep Historic Alex Theatre
BY ELISE KALFAYAN
Glendale Arts, which books and stages events including a city-wide annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration, is now mobilizing to keep the historic Alex Theatre as its premier venue and Glendale’s cultural center. California’s closure of all redevelopment agencies has hit the theater with budget and ownership threats. City officials enacted zoning changes in July to prevent any attempt by the state to claim and sell the property.
I attended Glendale Arts’ annual meeting in July, and listened as new Executive Director Elissa Glickman talked about budget challenges and presented a plan to increase local support for arts and cultural programming.
“Glendale Arts derives more than 66% of its overall budget from earned income streams such as Alex Theatre rentals, box office services and advertising,” Glickman reported. “Another 17% of the budget comes from contributed and other income.
“The goal over the next three years is to increase rental income by seven percent and contributed and other earned income by 20 percent,” said Glickman. She noted that mini-fundraisers held during the past year, like iHeart Glendale Arts and Indulge for the Arts, raised the community participation rate by 415 percent!
Community/Civic Gathering Place
A long list of groups that have used the Alex Theatre with Glendale Arts’ support was on one of Glickman’s slides, including the Armenian-American Chamber of Commerce, the Armenian-American Medical Society, and Armenian Arts. During the past year, Glendale Arts hosted a number of Armenian film screenings, dance performances, concerts, and other cultural events. The Genocide Commemoration featured two keynote speakers – Filmmaker Eric Nazarian and Canadian Parliament member Jim Karygiannis – and a variety of performances.
A few days after the board meeting, I spoke with Zizette Mullins, who just retired as Glendale’s community relations coordinator. Mullins worked with Glendale Arts on the city’s annual Genocide Commemoration, held at the Alex free of charge for the whole community. She took a break from packing up her office to express her appreciation: “We’ve held the Genocide Commemoration at the Alex for the past seven years, and the Alex has cosponsored the event by waiving all its staff fees. They don’t charge us for any of their hours, for setting up, or for rental of the facility. Glendale Arts staff serve on the committee and contribute where they feel they can.” Mullins stressed that “It is overlooked at times that the Alex and Glendale Arts are great supporters of the Armenian community.”
Beyond the Armenian community, almost every civic and charitable organization in town has worked with Glendale Arts. The same day I spoke with Mullins, I attended a Glendale Chamber of Commerce mixer in the lobby of the Alex Theatre, hosted by Glendale Arts.
In front of the theatre, I met volunteers for Greg Krikorian’s 43rd State Assembly campaign, who were passing out flyers stating Krikorian’s pledge to “protect the Alex Theatre, ensuring the ‘Crown Jewel’ of our city is going to be there for the citizens of the Jewel City for a long time.”
Inside, I met Antran Manoogian, who has served as president of the International Animated Film Society and who used to book the Alex for the Society’s annual Annie Awards (it now needs a larger venue). He expressed strong support for the theatre’s civic mission.
Alex Theatre’s Business Side
Director of Marketing & Events Maria Sahakian works to keep the theatre fully booked and promote its events. Sahakian was justly proud to report at the board meeting that almost no groups cancel once they are booked; and that artists are very pleased to work with Glendale Arts and return year after year to engagements at the Alex.
“Glendale Arts has a number of initiatives in place and in development that are aimed at securing the financial health of the theatre, while ensuring that the arts are alive and well in our community,” Sahakian said. Her goals include: “Increasing the number of days on which the theatre is booked, and collaborating more closely with rental clients on their marketing strategies in order to fill more seats for each performance, which will foster a win-win situation for both Glendale Arts and the promoters.”
While Sahakian focuses on the business side, she keeps in mind that “The Alex Theatre is an icon, a landmark that has represented the City of Glendale for nearly nine decades. It holds historical significance – as it dates back to Hollywood’s Golden Era – while remaining one of the busiest venues in the Los Angeles area today, attracting thousands of people to the city annually.
“Over the last decade and a half, the Alex has been host to countless events and performances geared towards the Armenian-American community. The theatre is in a sense a hometown gathering place, centered around the arts and entertainment, for the City’s large Armenian population.”
Armenian-Americans also work with Glendale Arts in the course of their business. Ani Khachoian, Executive VP of Licensing & Consumer Products for Glendale-based C3Entertainment, held a private viewing of the new The Three Stooges movie at the Alex earlier this year for The Three Stooges family members and friends. She had high praise for Sahakian and Glendale Arts. “The entire theatre staff was extraordinarily helpful in making our event a success,” she said. On the topic of the theatre, Khachoian said, “The Alex and Glendale Arts are very important to the city of Glendale as a whole and the Armenian-American community in particular. The Alex is a great venue and a point of contact culturally and artistically.”
Closing the Gap
The stakes are high. Increasing rental income Sahakian brings in is part of Glendale Arts’ plan to close the funding gap. Another plan component is generating revenues from Glendale Arts-produced performances like the Glendale Pops and Art of Comedy, and co-producing/presenting more shows at the Alex Theatre. Earned income streams will not cover all expenses, though, so contributed funds will be very important for the survival of the organization.
Preserving a historic structure and promoting arts and culture during a deep recession: Glendale Arts mission remains consistent despite the challenges. Glendale’s civic and charitable groups, including Armenian-American organizations, must recognize the important role that mission plays in this community and support it accordingly.
Elise Kalfayan is a Glendale resident, a native Southern Californian, and a combined first/second generation Armenian-American. She has produced or edited print and online pieces on topics ranging from urban development to Armenian Church history. She is the publisher of a Glendale community news blog, and works as a contract writer, editor, and publishing consultant for clients including businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and memoirists.