Photo by Fred Pollard
The exterior of the Jacoby Arts Center, with one of the boarded-up windows on the second floor visible.
(Note: This is the first installment of a two-part article on the Jacoby Arts Center)
ALTON – Following a year of transition and turmoil, the Jacoby Arts Center is doing its best to ensure its next art show won’t be its last.
“If we don’t receive a substantial influx of money in a very short period of time, we will have to close the doors,” says Ron Abraham, who served as executive director for the JAC until March 1 of this year.
During a public meeting Monday, Abraham, along with other representatives of the Alton-based non-profit organization, detailed the center’s financial straits, property disrepair and personnel upheaval.
With spotlights showcasing artwork from Marquette Catholic High School students illuminated in the background, Abraham outlined not only the troubled center’s challenges, but its plans for rebirth and growth, as well.
“I see an extremely vibrant arts organization and community that wants to live,” he told the meeting attendees, numbering about 50. “It has to be an organization that supports artists, but also a venue for the whole River Bend community to come together to celebrate and enjoy the arts and develop a community of excitement (regarding) music, arts, literature and theater.”
The financial dilemma
Years of debt, coupled with a sharply divided Board of Directors, came to a head earlier this year, resulting in nearly every board member resigning and the center left trying to come up with funding to pay this month’s bills.
“Monthly expenses run around $6,000 a month, and that is just the basics…no classes, programs, or exhibits,” Abraham said.
Those expenses include an $800 monthly mortgage, credit card debt totaling $14,000 with a monthly interest rate of $350, and $1,900 yearly in real estate taxes.
The former director, who now is serving as a volunteer, says when the organization obtained the building 10 years ago, it took out a $100,000 loan to cover expenses for HVAC installation as well as the addition of lighting and the studio gallery. For the past five years, the center has operated at a loss of $20,000 to $25,000 each year, and currently, about $70,500 is owed on the mortgage.
“The center was operated by borrowing money on credit cards. That is a big burden for us (now),” he said.
Abraham also stressed there has been no misappropriation of funds or illegal activity. He says when he came aboard as executive director in May of last year, outgoing expenses totaled about $10,000 per month, and a reduction in staff and fixed expenses helped bring that total down within a year to about $6,000.
Today, the majority of funding comes from memberships and donations, with a small amount of money from the Illinois Arts Council and independent foundations from throughout the area, usually only able to be used for a specific exhibit or program. Six of the seven studios on the lower level bring in about $1,000 when full. Two currently are empty, Abraham said. Some money also comes in through renting the venue out for events such as wedding receptions and birthday parties.
The current condition of the building
Abraham also addressed the state of the building, saying most of the structure at 627 East Broadway is more than a century old and in dire need of tuckpointing, window replacement and other upgrades.
“Three weeks ago, a portion of the upper roof collapsed, with some bricks hitting a parked car … causing us some liability,” he said. “About a month ago, two windows in the top were blown out and have not been replaced.”
During Monday’s meeting, representatives laid out plans for restructuring and revitalizing the JAC, highlighting the importance of the cultural center for the region.
“I truly believe the center is an asset to the community,” longtime supporter Jerry Wunderlich said. “When you look at the monthly operating expenses, taking into account the studio space and the activity rentals, it is easy to see how that cash flow can cover expenses. So it is certainly not a horrible situation.
“I feel a strong responsibility to (past supporters) to see this continue. I think the support and the resources are there.”
The Jacoby Foundation has pledged to match up to $50,000 to improve the building façade, and Abraham says the city of Alton also will cover 25 percent.
A support and donation form passed out during the meeting stated that a gift of $845 from 100 people could make JAC essentially debt-free. Will and Kim Lane, who attended the meeting, immediately pledged $845 and volunteered to serve on a reorganized board. Wunderlich said as of Wednesday, seven more people had pledged the same monetary amount.
“Maybe if people see this, it will encourage them,” Will Lane said after the meeting.
Plan for a new transitional Board of Directors could move forward beginning as soon as next week.
The center is scheduled to host a high school art exhibit from May 5 through June 6, featuring submissions from more than 100 students of 10 area high schools.
The JAC is hoping it will be the first of a new era of exhibits, not the center’s swan song.
To learn more on how to become a sustaining member or other ways to help, call (618) 462-5222 or visit the website at www.jacobyartscenter.org.
Check out the April 5-6 print edition of the AdVantage News for part two of this article, including a history of the JAC, the Board of Directors split, and plans for the future.