“We call it the nuclear option. We are talking within seven to eight months,” Foster said. “We would dissolve the organization, sell the building and have the money go toward establishing an endowment for children and youth to study culture and music.”
The board has begun a multistep plan to try to raise revenue, Foster said. The first step is to offer space for rent in the Collective’s 40,000-square-foot building at 1200 Albany Ave.
“We need help,” said Foster, a retired high school and adult education educator, who took over as chairman of the 14-member board in February. “The Artists Collective is in fiscal crisis.”
McLean founded the Collective in 1970 with her late husband, jazzman Jackie McLean. It offers instruction in dance, instrumental and vocal music, drama and martial arts, with an emphasis on the culture of the African diaspora, and is an entertainment venue, hosting jazz concerts, dance performances and more.
The Collective has been financially strained since 1999, McLean said, when its building opened. She said the 15-year, $8 million construction capital campaign failed to raise enough for a $1 million building-maintenance endowment, so maintenance costs for the structure have been covered by the general budget.
“It was time to build and we didn’t have the endowment money. We were told ‘get it in the ground and the other money will come,’ We got it in the ground and the other money did not come,” McLean, 82, said. “We moved into the building by the seat of our pants.”
The 2008 recession hurt all nonprofits. “Many corporations changed their focus from arts to education and health. Many organizations that funded every year started funding every other year,” McLean said.
The Collective’s annual budget gradually shrank from about $1.2 million at its peak to about $800,000, she said, necessitating reductions in staff, programs and hours.
Another blow was dealt last September, McLean said, when the Greater Hartford Arts Council, for the first year since 1974, denied the Collective a general-use grant. GHAC gave program grants — for the Collective website, Neighborhood Studios and its Kwanzaa events — but not general-use funds.
In a letter to McLean dated Sept. 29, 2017, explaining the denial of funding, then-GHAC Chairman David Carter wrote: “We remain deeply concerned that the organization’s financial footing continues to be unstable to the extent that additional operating support from the Arts Council is not possible at this time.”
GHAC CEO Cathy Malloy said Monday that she admires McLean and the Collective.
“What she has done as a person is unbelievable. She is iconic. They’ve literally raised families in that organization,” she said. But, she added, because of the long-running nature of the Collective’s financial dilemmas contributing in response to the threat of bankruptcy “is not a good or sound fiscal decision.”
Kate McOmber, a spokeswoman for GHAC, added that funding decisions — spearheaded by volunteer allocations panels, not by GHAC staff — are made on the basis of “fiscal responsibility as opposed to fiscal stability. We steward donors’ money and have to invest that money responsibly.”
Annual GHAC funding for the Collective has dropped over the years, McLean said, starting with $60,000 in 1974 and gradually reducing to $5,000 in 2016. She said the reduction from $5,000 in 2016 to nothing in 2017 was worrisome, but even more so was how the denial would be perceived by others.
“Not getting general support was a real blow. Often other organizations and foundations will call the Arts Council to ask about an organization,” she said. “The grant gives us the stamp of approval.”
Carter’s letter offered counseling to help the Collective get back to fundable status. McLean did not take advantage of that counseling. “I didn’t think it was the right time,” McLean said.
The Collective also receives funding from the state, the city and other corporations and foundations.
McLean wants to raise money without raising the cost of attending classes at the Collective.
“We want to keep tuition at a minimum. Many parents even find that amount difficult,” McLean said. “People are poor in this neighborhood. I remember one woman, she had been saving one dollar bill after one dollar bill after one dollar bill. She opened her fist full of dollar bills to dole the money out.”
She also does not want to cut staff pay. “Nobody here makes what they should,” she said.
This article was originally posted here: http://www.courant.com/entertainment/arts-theater/hc-fea-artists-collective-fiscal-crisis-hartford-0814-story.html