“Immerse yourself in our culture at Newfoundland and Labrador's largest public cultural space.”
— From The Rooms website
There’s an intriguing art exhibition on at The Rooms right now — “Earth Skins: Three Decades of Drawing by Susan Wood.” Think I’ll pop down on Sunday to see it.
Oh wait. I can’t. It’s closed.
Monday? Nope, still closed.
The Rooms alerted the media it would be closed for three days in a succinctly worded news release issued Sept. 5:
“The Rooms wishes to advise that the facility will be closed to the public from Sunday, Sept. 16, up to and including, Tuesday, Sept. 18, to accommodate use by an external organization. The Rooms apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause.”
It was only after The Telegram asked questions that the reason why was revealed.
The “external organization” is “Republic of Doyle” — the popular local TV show is using the provincial archives, museum and art gallery as a set for three days, shooting footage for next season.
When asked about the financial aspects of this arrangement, The Rooms said in an emailed statement delivered via the Department of Tourism that since this provides The Rooms with “an exceptional promotional opportunity,” rental fees have been waived.
But there doesn’t seem to be an actual rental fee for having The Rooms at your disposal for one whole day, let alone three.
Check the “rental rates” section of The Rooms’ website, and you will see that while you can rent out certain sections — the café, for example, evenings only — there is no option listed for renting the whole building.
The Rooms says that linking up with “Republic of Doyle” has provided “a unique opportunity for The Rooms and cultural heritage in Newfoundland and Labrador to be featured to a national audience.”
Agreed. “Republic of Doyle” will bring The Rooms to much of the world, and bravo for that. The Rooms is an impressive facility that boasts one of the best views in the city, and “Republic of Doyle” excels at making this city shine its brightest.
But this is not about “Republic of Doyle,” it’s about government transparency.
In principle, I don’t agree with barring the public from public buildings, but if it’s a one-time deal that affects three days out of the year, perhaps that’s not a big deal.
As The Rooms notes in its emailed statement: “It is our understanding that the practice of temporarily closing public buildings for filming such as this is not unusual for other cities with an established film industry.”
Nova Scotia, for example, has a clearly defined Nova Scotia Museum’s Film/Video Production Policy, which states:
“A daily location fee is charged for all film work at the museum, based on an eight-hour day. An hourly overtime rate will be charged for filming beyond the eight hours or for extraordinary hours. For major projects, a flat fee may be negotiated.
“All film productions are subject to the Nova Scotia Museum’s Film/Video Production Policy and producers must sign a Letter of Agreement.”
I could find no such policy on our government’s website.
And that’s the problem here — there doesn’t seem to be a policy.
It could well be worth it for the provincial government to close a public facility temporarily to get a raft of free publicity, but it should outline the conditions of that arrangement so that there’s a level playing field as well as transparency.
Can anyone commandeer The Rooms for three days? How about a week? Is it a public space or a public/private hybrid?
Are other public buildings available in their entirety to the right “external organization”? And if so, is there a fee or are they free as well?
We’re talking about public facilities here.
If the province has decided to lend out The Rooms in a one-off deal, it should say so.
By issuing a news release that didn’t say who was going to be using the facility or why, or how much — if any — financial or promotional benefit was involved in closing its doors for three days, The Rooms did the public a disservice.
And as the landlords of that publicly funded facility, we deserve to have that information without having to go asking for it.
The Rooms’ website describes it as “a truly public space.”
Perhaps it’s time to update that to something a tad more accurate.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at