The saga of the MACC (Mammoth Arts and Cultural Center) kinda mirrors the plot of Dr. Seuss’s “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
Steal all the presents, wait long enough until you think people have forgotten your role in the theft, and then roll back into town, trumpets blaring, declaring yourself a savior.
But it might’ve come as a bit of a surprise to Mammoth Lakes Foundation Board President Luan Mendel that she was not asked to cut the roast beast after presenting the new drawings for a reimagined MACC at Tuesday’s meeting of the Mammoth Lakes Recreation board.
And the project still doesn’t have a price tag.
The backstory is long and mildly sordid.
More than twenty years ago, voters approved a bond measure for a performing arts facility. That fund has accrued $7.5 million.
The Town of Mammoth Lakes has pledged another $2.5 million.
There’s another $3 million-plus that has been pledged in private money. The largest donor is a fan/patron of Shira Dubrovner’s theatrical efforts and pledged more than $2 million towards the new center.
Dubrovner’s Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theater formerly operated under the umbrella of the Mammoth Lakes Foundation. One could argue that the Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theater was the most compelling aspect of the Foundation.
In May 2020, the Foundation let Dubrovner go after 11 years. She had filed a workplace harassment suit against then-MLF Executive Director Rich Boccia. MLF then found/invented reason to get rid of Dubrovner.
At the meeting Tuesday, the Foundation unveiled plans to build an addition onto the existing 100-seat Edison Theater.
The new performing arts theater is planned to have 250 seats.
Mendel said that once completed, the Town of Mammoth Lakes would become the owner/operator because the Foundation does not have the staff/expertise to do the job.
In the interim, it expects a consultant by the name of Bill Blake to create a facility programming blueprint.
Which would be all well and good if Blake hadn’t already been paid to do the same task.
“We already participated in producing a pro forma with Bill Blake,” said a member of the Sierra Classic Theater governing board. “Why would he be paid twice [for the same thing]?”
Blake was initially hired by Boccia.
Two incongruous statements stood out at Tuesday’s meeting. One was Mendel’s assertion that HMC Architects had produced the drawings for the project “pro bono.” Until she later referenced the Town as having paid to bring them on board.
Mendel also described the existing Edison Theater as an “underutilized asset.” It’s only been underutilized since the staff that utilized it was fired.
And anyone who’s ever participated in a production at the Edison knows that every square foot is utilized.
During public comment, Jo Bacon chastised the Foundation for its secrecy.
“Unless we were lucky enough that Kim [Anaclerio, MLR director] knew to include someone that knew us, most people didn’t even know about this meeting.”
Allison Page chastised the Foundation for its lack of transparency, noting that arts groups like Sierra Classic Theater were shut out of planning/design meetings.
“You’re gonna build it and hope they come? What do you expect? That Dan Holler will direct?”
Why build it, she said, if there’s no one on board to run it? “This isn’t Field of Dreams,” she said. You can’t sideline local theater for years while you build this and then just flip the switch and hope you have a performing community and audience.
“If you’re selling basketball, you want to sell a team, not just a building … I don’t think you’re just gonna have rental companies try to fill the seats.”
She described what’s happening now as a “vanity” project for the insiders involved.
It’s rare that anyone stumbles into a situation where they literally control $15 million that needs to get spent. Mendel and fellow MLF Executive Committee member Gary Myers (the two MLF representatives on the call) are under pressure right now to prove they know what the hell they’re doing.
But if you wanna carve the roast beast, here’s a tip: You need a bigger, more inclusive heart. The Grinch got humble and grew his by three times. That’s the blueprint here if you really care about Cindy Lou Who and the rest of us here in Whoville.