Concerns that the theatre might not reopen until the second half of 2022 now appear to have been confirmed by advice from the government that the Opera House should not plan to reopen before July next year.
Meanwhile, the Jersey Arts Centre is also understood to be facing delays in its improvements.
Both the Island’s principal arts venues made successful applications to the ‘timely, targeted and temporary’ Fiscal Stimulus Fund established to support Jersey’s economic recovery. But it is understood that neither has received confirmation of when work costing, respectively, £2.2 million and £2.9 million will actually begin.
The fund’s guidance states that projects are ‘expected to be completed by December 2021’ but, although both organisations were notified of the success of their bids in April, no details have been provided of the schedules for the work which the government is commissioning.
Opera House chairman Pierre Horsfall described the situation as ‘intensely frustrating’, adding that the extended period of closure had now resulted in a moth infestation in the building’s carpets which was being treated by specialists at the theatre’s expense.
‘What I find really frustrating is not so much the situation for the Opera House itself but for those who expect the theatre to be at the heart of the community. It provides not just the opportunity to go to the theatre or to be on stage – there is a much deeper benefit. It is a social-leveller and can be life-changing for children who are given the chance to perform at a young age,’ he said.
Although the Opera House is owned by the government, it is operated by an independent company which is dependent on an annual operating grant insufficient to fund larger items of building maintenance. The theatre has remained closed to the public since being forced to close at the start of the pandemic last year.
The board announced that it could not reopen until essential maintenance to the fabric of the building, including roof repairs and electrical works, were complete.
In October last year they prepared an application for Fiscal Stimulus Funding which was approved in April.
It is understood that the Island’s second specialist arts venue – the Jersey Arts Centre – is also awaiting details of the timing of its maintenance work which relates to fundamental infrastructure, much of which dates from the venue’s opening almost 40 years ago.
Although, unlike the position at the Opera House, this does not threaten immediate public access to the building, the Arts Centre announced earlier this year that it had created a window in its schedule in August and September – when performances take place in Coronation Park – to allow the work to be carried out without interfering with the theatre’s programming.
If the work is delayed, the organisation’s management committee might have to approve a further period of closure to allow some of the work specifically affecting the theatre to take place.
The JEP has been unable to obtain a comment from the Arts Centre’s director, Daniel Austin.
A number of arts organisations – including the Jersey Symphony Orchestra, which intended to move two of its three annual concerts to the Opera House with effect from Easter next year – have already expressed their dismay at the theatre’s continuing closure.
The orchestra’s musical director, Hilary Davan Wetton, said he was ‘staggered’ at the situation.
‘It is a tragedy because a number of quite big cities in Britain would give their eye-teeth to have the Jersey Opera House situated in their city, and I’m just completely uncomprehending of how it can be that people in the government can’t see what an asset this is,’ he told the JEP earlier this year.
The JEP contacted the government press office to ask for details of the progress of the maintenance work at the Opera House and Arts Centre but had received no response at the time of publication.