Bank Shot

For the past few years, Livermore has had a wonderful local theater, the Bankhead. Our local community orchestra performs there, as do the local opera company and theater company and a wide variety of touring professional artists. It’s a 500-seat hall, smallish (no balcony) with great acoustics.

Barring a miracle, all that will soon be coming to an end. The Bankhead will be boarded up.

I’m not on the inside; I only hear gossip. Some of what I’ve heard may be wrong, distorted, or incomplete. What I’ve heard is this.

The Bankhead has been operated by an organization called LVPAC (Livermore Valley Performing Arts something-or-other). Not satisfied to run the Bankhead, LVPAC has been hell-bent on building a larger “regional theater” in downtown Livermore. Nobody that I have spoken to ever thought the regional theater was a good idea. Traffic downtown is already bad enough, and if you want to see Lady Gaga on tour it’s not that hard to drive down to San Jose. Nonetheless, the land has been cleared, and LVPAC has spent millions on architectural plans.

At some point after that money had been spent, the State of California pulled the plug on its funding for the redevelopment agency. Suddenly, the state money was gone. LVPAC was left holding the bag. They sued the state. They lost.

LVPAC owes millions of dollars to a bank in New York, and there isn’t enough cash coming in to make payments on the loan. The gossip is that LVPAC has been less than forthright with the bank about their impending default. Let a smile be your umbrella and all that. And now the chickens are about to come home to roost.

I would tend to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the LVPAC leadership, whose grandiose vision was to build a magnificent regional theater that Livermore didn’t need and couldn’t afford. But I could be wrong. There may be other factors in play that I know nothing about. I clearly know nothing about how the finances of a local civic theater are handled. Apparently, the Bankhead itself has always depended on donations from rich local supporters. I didn’t know that. I just assumed that the money from ticket sales was enough to pay the janitors and the electric bill.

So now LVPAC is attempting to ramp up its fund-raising. Too little, too late, according to my informed source. For more on the story, you might want to check out the latest from the Livermore Independent. In reading the story in the Independent, however, you may want to bear in mind that the owner of the Independent is also the head of LVPAC. As she herself has forthrightly observed in print, the Independent does not practice journalistic objectivity.

Ultimately, this is a story about big egos and small-town politics. As so often happens, when big egos and small-town politics take center stage, artists and art lovers suffer the consequences. It seems to me that the people who pushed hardest to have the regional theater built, relying on the state government to pump money into their lavish and ill-advised scheme, should take personal responsibility for the debacle. If the Bankhead needs millions of dollars to stay afloat, the assets those people have (which are considerable) should be seized in order to pay the bills.

Of course, that wouldn’t be legal. But it would be fitting and poetic. I really don’t care about laying blame, however; I only care about the arts.

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