For over 60 years the Okanagan Similkameen Concert Society, better known as Penticton Community Concerts, has provided Penticton residents with top-notch musical performances, but the society is closing its doors.
Irwin Hobden, president of the society for three decades and more recently acting as past president, said the lack of a suitable venue after the demolition of the old Pen High auditorium was a big part of the declining numbers that brought the society to a close.
Hobden noted there was no single cause for the society to shut down.
“Demographics change, the times change, but there was no single reason,” Hobden said.
The society would originally bring in bigger artists to smaller communities through the Columbia Artist Management Group in the U.S. The society estimates that through the course of the 317 concerts put on, over $3.5 million was attracted to the area and Community Concerts donated over $50,000 in cash, sponsorships and complimentary memberships to the local community.
Hobden, who sits on the board for the proposed South Okanagan Performing Arts Centre (SOPAC), said that the society could return in some form when the venue is built. He and other SOPAC members view the performing arts centre as an inevitability rather than a proposition.
“It would return as one of the promoters of the performing arts centre, it could do that. But to operate as we are, no there’s no future in operating as we are now,” Hobden said.
Membership has declined over the years, mostly due to factors beyond the control of the society, Hobden said.
He said they foresaw disbanding the society about 10 years ago.
“But we never gave up. We’re really proud of the fact that we operated for 65 years. There are not many organizations that have that kind of record,” Hobden said.
The Alice P. Hobden fund, in memory of Irwin’s late wife, will continue to further opportunities for youth to attend concerts and further their education in music. Alice was one of the first members of the society and the fund will continue as part of the Community Foundation. Any money left over from the society will go into the fund.
The society’s final concert was held on April 7 with local artists at the Cleland Theatre.
“It’s a sad story in some ways but on the other hand it’s a success story,” Hobden said. “I don’t know of any other organization in Canada that ran successfully over 65 years.”