The September 28, 2020 meeting of the Athens City Council.

Anticipated Arts West Update Not Given During September 28 City Council Meeting

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City of Athens Arts, Parks, and Recreation Director Terri Moore was not able to give an update on the status of municipally funded arts center Arts West during the September 28 City Council meeting.

In early August, Arts West was temporarily shut down when Program Specialist Emily Beveridge was temporarily laid off with an anticipated reinstatement date of January 4, 2021. The City cited financial distress related to the COVID-19 pandemic and a “lack of work” as the reasons for Beveridge’s layoff.

During the September 24 meeting of the Recreation Advisory Board Moore said Mayor Steve Patterson had given her a “recommendation and directive” to reopen Arts West and reinstate the facility’s program specialist position. She said an October reinstatement date was anticipated and that she would have more information this week.

Patterson spoke in Moore’s stead during the September 28 Council meeting. He told Council Moore had shared with him that up to 40 people may be able to attend in-person events in Arts West’s upstairs space under current Ohio Department of Health guidelines. Additionally, Patterson reported that CARES Act funding is still being considered to improve the facility’s Internet connectivity and create opportunities for potentially revenue-generating virtual programming.

Auditor Kathy Hecht has been in conversation with Moore about the financial state of her department. Hecht said “the bottom line is cost,” but acknowledged Arts West is subsidized by the City, similarly to the Athens Transit System or Athens Community Center.

“I don’t think [Arts West] has ever been a break even, revenue in, expenses out kind of venture,” said Council President Christine Knisely.

“We know that many of the people here tonight, joining us as panelists, are supportive, and that yes, we thought that Director Moore would be here, but I’m sure we will hear from her soon,” said Knisely, who then opened up the meeting to public commentary.

Emily Prince, regional arts advocate, former Arts West Program Specialist, and current education director at Stuart’s Opera House, encouraged Council to “drop the idea” that Arts West “needs to be revenue-generating.”

“It can probably be income neutral, but the city needs to maintain the facility, and they need to maintain a staff person,” Prince said.

Prince said a staff person at Arts West is necessary because deadlines to apply for a variety of funding opportunities for Arts West are approaching. If the City doesn’t reinstate the Program Specialist position until January 4, 2021, those opportunities will be gone.

Brandon Thompson, executive director of Brew Week and member of the Recreation Advisory Board, said the arts do not receive adequate support from the City.

“[…] We really need to think about art in a different way. There’s a reason these cuts were here, and not somewhere else,” he said. “[Arts West] needs support and people, not just some money, or a part-time person.”

Patterson said Moore will “come before Council at the next committee meeting, or soon,” to make a further update on the status of Arts West and its program specialist position.