Athens Municipal Arts Commission Debates Creation of 501c3 To Support Arts West

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ATHENS, OH (WOUB) – Does Arts West need the support of a 501c3 nonprofit organization to support its programming? Could that potential support be only financial, or also managerial in nature?

Late last year, the Athens Municipal Arts Commission (AMAC) appointed an ad hoc committee to explore the long discussed possibility of creating a 501c3 in the name of Arts West. The committee was appointed due to budget concerns caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic paired with community concern over the temporary closure of Arts West from early August 2020 to January 5, 2021.

The committee presented their proposal at the Jan. 13 meeting for discussion.

The proposal emphasizes the role of a management board appointed by Athens City Council on the development of Arts West programming through a racial equity lens and is based on a similar initiative from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. The proposed management board would be responsible for the Arts West Program Specialist position; maintenance and engagement of volunteers, contractors, and interns; and “strengthening Arts West’s regional profile.”

Chelsa Morahan, member of the ad hoc committee and former program specialist at Arts West, said the proposal focused on the management and programming aspect because “there has always been a sort of disconnect between Arts West and the Arts, Parks, and Recreation department that manages it.”

“An arts person is very different than a parks and recreation person. We really wanted to give the Arts West Program Specialist a little bit more autonomy. We wanted a managerial 501c3 because we wanted arts people running the arts facility,” she said. “I call the proposal a ‘pipe dream’ because it’s kind of the ultimate goal. But the more I think about it, it really is a starting off point in the sense that this is where we want to end up.”

Arts West

Commission member and Athens City Council Second Ward Representative Jeffrey Risner worried about control of management and programs in the proposal.

“I have some concerns about a not-for-profit organization of unelected officials essentially making city management decisions,” he said.

He was also concerned that the proposal didn’t focus enough on the financial concerns he felt were at the heart of the decision to create a 501c3.

Arts West closed its doors in mid-March due to COVID-19. Programming continued until August 6 when program specialist and Athens’ lone arts administrator Emily Beveridge was temporarily laid off.

Beveridge was reinstated in her position in November 2020 and was working at the Athens Community Center before Arts West was reopened on January 5.

However, the lost time to submit grants for future funding and the overall financial situation for Athens due to the pandemic has supporters concerned.

Mayor Steve Patterson supports the formation of a 501c3 to financially support Arts West. He made a proposal to create one in 2018 alongside Arts, Parks, and Recreation Department Director Terri Moore.

While he sees the proposal made at the commission’s January meeting as “an interesting starting point,” he pointed out that several aspects of the proposal are “not doable.”

“In terms of a 501c3 that would basically oversee all operations, as well as having oversight over city employees, that can’t be done at this point in time because the city isn’t going to pay for building maintenance as well as paying the employees who work in that space. This is something we need to have conversation about for years, not months.”

The next meeting of the Athens Municipal Arts Commission is scheduled for February 10.