Photo by Fred Pollard
The artist’s marketplace at Jacoby Arts Center in Alton provides patrons an opportunity to shop and bring home some of the creations they visit the center to see.
ALTON – Cora Miller’s “artist rendering” of the future of Jacoby Arts Center is impressionistic, abstract … and inspirational.
“This is a new day at JAC,” she says as she shifts and squirms in her chair with excitement. “People are noticing we are doing something right, and the energy is so good.”
Miller is the last remaining member of the center’s previous Board of Directors, a board that exploded into chaos earlier this year amidst financial crisis and a power struggle over the JAC’s direction.
Now, Miller says the dust is settling and a new board and new opportunities are breathing new life into what she wants to see become an interactive asset to the area.
“We are off to a great start,” she said. “This is a rebirth, something we have needed for a long time. Engaging the community has been under-accomplished in the past; we now have an open-door policy.”
As the infighting amongst the Board of Directors helped bring about the resignation of every member except Miller, crippling debt left the JAC with a need to raise $845,000 just to pay off its past bills. The community responded to the center’s pleas for help, and that total has been pledged.
Although the center has reached its donation goal, Miller is hesitant to declare victory until all of the monies are actually in and accounted for (“And remember, this just gets us out of very preliminary debt,” she says). $25,000 also has been provided by the city for work on the building facade, and the Jacoby Foundation has offered an additional $50,000.
“We still have the obligation to raise another $25,000 (for the building repairs),” Miller said.
Possible plans for the building include an outdoor fire escape, an elevator, and third-floor renovations in the hopes of opening up a ballet studio or designated area for yoga. A building committee has been formed to assess the best route to take regarding the building’s structural issues.
Including Miller, who serves as president of the board, along with other executive administrative duties, 15 are serving on the new board. Current bylaws state the center can have 12 to 16 board members.
“The board is currently reviewing the entire center, looking at everything that brought Jacoby to where the collapse happened, including education, programs, and exhibits,” Miller said. “We are also looking to review and update Jacoby’s mission statement.”
“One of the issues we have with the old statement is the line about ‘nurture the artistic development and financial success of artists,’” Dee Kilgo, events co-chair and exhibits coordinator, added. “That is a very noble cause, but it put all the focus on the artists, not the membership. We actually feel a great responsibility to encourage participation in the arts and to provide opportunities to the community to learn about the arts.”
“Our laser focus starts off with assessments, with each committee bringing us an analysis,” Miller said. “Then we will come up with solutions, which will convert into a business plan. Those will be reviewed on a regular basis.”
To ensure the center becomes and stays solvent, the new board has both short- and long-term goals. One of the first changes to be implemented was to establish a rule that all art must be for sale.
“We can no longer afford to have exhibits that do not generate revenue,” Kilgo said. “That is a big difference between then and now. When it costs you hundreds of dollars to open the doors and you don’t sell a single piece of art, something has to change.”
Other plans include more focus and marketing related to rental of the building space for community events and private parties, expansion of the art education program to generate tuition income, a broadening into other areas of the arts including drama, dance and martial arts, an increase in local sponsors, and expanding the in-gallery marketplace so patrons can come in and purchase artwork and wearable art objects.
A summer packed with events and exhibits also is helping the center kick off its new era.
“I am thrilled we can attract these kinds of events,” Miller said. “With shows like the upcoming SPLASH juried watercolor exhibit, we are casting a broader net with artists from out of our area.”
The Jacoby Arts Center was founded in 1981 as the Madison County Arts Council and is considered by the Illinois Arts Council to be the artistic hub for the 17 counties in the region. Miller hopes to reach out to all 17 of those counties and get them involved in the organization.
“Many schools in those counties no longer have an art program,” Miller said. “Jacoby can be the answer. When you eliminate art, you eliminate a person’s creativity.”
She also says she would also like to see JAC reach out to those who may have had negative experiences with the center in the past.
“There are misconceptions and hard feelings based on past experiences, and we want to change that,” she said. “This is all part of a healing process.”
Exciting summer ahead
Following a challenging spring, cultural hub the Jacoby Arts Center, 627 East Broadway, is gearing up for a busy summer, starting out by turning the gallery over to a bunch of teenagers.
The 2014 Regional High School Exhibition, running through June 5, is a free event featuring paintings, watercolors, sculptures and other interpretations by students of Alton, Civic Memorial, Edwardsville, East Alton-Wood River, Marquette Catholic, Roxana, Jersey County and Southwestern high schools.
The exhibit will draw to a close with a closing reception and awards ceremony at 7 p.m. on June 5.
Upcoming exhibits include the “SPLASH Juried Exhibition of St. Louis Watercolor Society” from June 13 through 19, “Beauty in the Beast” animal-themed artwork (with a kids’ exhibit in the East Gallery) from July 25 through Aug. 30, and “The Riverbend: Through the Artist’s Eye” exhibit beginning Sept. 5.
“Through the Artist’s Eye” is a juried exhibition inviting artists to “interpret the Riverbend locale — a region known for its scenic beauty, historic landmarks, and riverfront townscapes.”
The gallery is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. For information on any JAC events, call (618) 462-5222.