Destination: Screwed

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Shane Dingman

Put yourself in the shoes of the student producers of Ryerson’s Mass Exodus fashion show. It’s a full-year project you start in September, planning every single detail and budgeting for every contingency. You know the show will cost about $10,000-15,000. You’ve planned the set, the lights, the program—all the major costs. At the end of the project, after all the money is counted, you hope to raise enough cash to start the ball rolling on next year’s show, as well as a little bit left over to improve the facilities at your school.

But then you’re told to pay $2,500 to rent the Ryerson Theatre, when the fashion department has used this campus facility free of charge for the last 10 years. Now at the 11th hour, a mere five weeks before the event, your fundraising efforts are suddenly inadequate, you have to cut the show’s budget, the tickets are printed and it’s far too late to find a new location. That $2,500 could could have helped upgrade the school’s facilities, but not now that Ryerson is charging you money to use a classroom, on top of your tuition and school fees. You’re screwed. How would you feel?

“It’s ridiculous, why would you stop a program from enhancing themselves?” asks Catherine Mellinger, third-year fashion marketing student and one for two directors of this year’s Mass Exodus, Destination. Shannon Willard, her co-director, says, “We could worry about, if they would just look at the big picture.” Willard, Mellinger and their classmate Becky Tomlinson—who is coordinating efforts among fashion students to fight the fee—just don’t understand why they have to pay now, with what they see as little or no warning.

In the normal course of things it would be easy to answer that question, but students are being frozen out of the discussion by the one person ultimately responsible for the decision, linda Grayson, Ryerson’s v.p. Administration & student affairs. On to separate occasions, Grayson declined to comment on why her office has told fashion to pay up: “This is a matter between and among the administrators of the program and the administration.” But in a profile about Grayson in the January 20 1999 issue of The Eyeopener, she was quoted as saying: “Students have a right to question what we are doing.”

“I think the student body deserves an answer,” says Ira Levine, dean of applied arts. “All you have to do is look at the administrative flow chart to see who is responsible.

To figure out how all this happened, first step back a minute and review the whole story. For 33 years Mass Exodus has been the showcase for final year fashion designers. The show being held this year on April 10 ad 11, is a massive Ryerson media event, as well as being part of the curriculum for both the fashion and theatre programs.

Prior to 1991, Exodus had always taken place off-campus, in hotels and other locations. Then Peter Duck, faculty advisor for the show, suggested that the Ryerson Theatre might be the perfect location.

Peter had a big revelation that year and we started using the theatre, and that’s when we started making money,” says former chair of fashion Katherine CLeaver. “Hotels would cost $10,000 and then lighting and stuff … We could never make a profit off that—actually we were losing money on it.”

What they did with the money they made after 1991 was spend it on new computers, supplies for designing, drafting tables, chairs, a scanner, and a whole host of things fashion’s operating budget was never big enough to cover. “We’re Third World here,” says Duck, now in his 23rd year at Ryerson. “When we do make a profit, the profit goes back to the students who have worked on it. So here’s $2,500 that’s not going to go back to the program. It’s going to go god knows where.” Duck says the idea for the rental fee has been kicking around since at least last year, but he was assured by Levine it would never come to pass. Fashion chair Mary McCrae received the bad news a week before reading week, and Duck told his students Tuesday Feb. 27. And now, aside from the most basic numbers—Willard mentions $2,000 raised at a Halloween fundraising party—Exodus organizers won’t talk about finances at all of fear of finding another hand in their pockets.

The theatre school, which has 35 students earning credit for their work on the show this year, never pays fees to use the Ryerson Theatre. According to Peter Fleming, production manager for the theatre school, that’s because the program has a special relationship with ancillary services, the department that replaced the theatre school as the manager of Ryerson Theatre rentals in the late 1970s. Every group outside of theatre must pay $2,500 a day to rent out the 1,500-seat space. “They see that [Exodus] is not in a position to pay, because that’s never been our tradition. If that was imposed upon us, I don’t know what would happen.”

John Corallo director of ancillary services, tried to explain why fashion is being told to pay up now, 10 years after first using the theatre for its shows. “When it first came in it was a two-day affair and it was tacked on to the end of the the theatre year. We just treated is as a theatre school booking,” Corallo says. What he now realizes is that they also take in admission to the show, they’ve cut into the time period that we have to rent that space … we’re trying to recoup some of the costs of using that space.”

Corallo himself is in a tight spot as his department has a mandate to make money for Ryerson service its $54-million capital debt. In the 2000-01 budget papers of Ryerson’s finance committee, his department posted a $4.95-million profit, $157,000 of which comes from the rental of facilities—including Ryerson Theatre. And this year’s interest on Ryerson’s debt alone is $4.14-million. $2,500 could easily disappear in all these millions.

Corallo says he was unaware Mass Exodus redistributes money to the fashion school at large, and says he thought they could pay for the rental fee and didn’t know there would be cuts to the show. While he also says he is not involved in the academic side of things, he says students can learn a lesson from the situation.

“They’re going to face it when they graduate, they’re going to face these kind of challenges, of generating revenue. They’re getting a real life experience,” Corallo says.

“[That’s] pretty shocking,” Levine says. “The reality is that while students are here, we do one hell of a job to familiarize them with the discipline they wish to enter.”

Catherine Mellinger is less diplomatic:

“It seems ridiculous for [Carallo] to suggest they’re teaching us. It’s like they are calling us stupid. As students, we’ve already done events, we’re not completely blind.”

Duck admits that the imposed fee is a serious discount, one day’s charge to cover the several days needed to setup and teardown of the show. “I’ll be very upfront, if you were an outside person, you’d jump at it, and say it’s a reasonable fee for use of the theatre,” Duck says. “But we are not just an event that comes from outside, we are part of two schools’ curriculum.”

The solution Levine would like to see is that instead of punishing fashion’s entrepreneurial spirit by taking away money it raises from Exodus, te class time in the theatre should be considered a normal lab space and a necessary academic facility for fashion. The only sticking point he can imagine is that fashion is not classified as a long-term user of the space—even after 10 years of use. In dealing with Grayson’s decision to impose the fee Levine says, “I will continue to do what is in the best interests of my school. I have done what I can to influence decisions in this case. I don’t hold out any hope.”

Even Corallo passes the buck firmly to Grayson’s officer.

“It was a recommendation that was made, that we charge them the $2,500,”

says Corallo. “Now the decision is further up the ladder … There could have been other discussions [about fashion’s case] that have taken place beyond my knowledge.”

For now, the Exodus crew is re-jigging the budget to try to pay the rental fee imposed by Grayson. Kathy Cleaver thinks students are being robbed, and that the money they raised will disappear into Ryerson’s operating funds, never to be seen again. “[Grayson] can’t really have an argument except that ‘we want some of that money, we want to grab some of it,’” Cleaver says.

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