A former Arts West employee is raising concerns over what she feels is the city’s neglect

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The Arts West cultural center in Athens is not receiving enough funding to run programming, according to its now-former program specialist.

The exterior of Arts West in Athens on a sunny day
Emily Beveridge bid farewell to her role in an address at the most recent Athens Municipal Arts Commission meeting and expressed frustration with what she believes is a lack of support for the facility. 

Arts West is a cultural center for both performing and visual arts that, in the past, has provided art services and programming to the community.

In her written and spoken statement, Beveridge said Arts West no longer receives enough funding to support year-round arts programming or a paid staff, which, with her departure, has dwindled to one person. Because of this, Arts West is now only open six hours a week and is not hosting any arts programming this summer.

“I did express concern about that because, in my opinion, you should never let a facility like that get to a point where you have to limit your open hours,” Beveridge said.

She pointed out that similar arts facilities in the area, such as the Dairy Barn and Stuart’s Opera House, are typically open four days a week.

According to Beveridge, the arts receive 6-10% of the overall Arts, Parks and Recreation Department budget. Of that 6-10%, Beveridge said only $20,000-$30,000 per year go specifically to fund programming at Arts West, which she argued isn’t enough.

Deputy Service Safety Director Andrew Chiki, who represents the mayor’s office on Athens Municipal Arts Commission, disputed Beveridge’s claim that Arts West lacks adequate funding. In an email, Chiki laid out Arts West’s budget and said the building’s funding for non-personnel was over $101,000.

Beveridge said most of that money was for building maintenance. Only a fraction went toward programming.

Chiki also wrote, “The programming at Arts West has never existed to compete with other arts facilities or programs and as those places have grown and added new programs, Arts West has looked for ways to fill emerging unmet needs. As we review what is being offered at Arts West and what programming should look like in the future, it will be important to evaluate community needs and how Arts West and the Arts, Parks and Recreation Department, in general, should be meeting those needs.”

Beveridge also expressed frustration regarding the Percent for Art Ordinance. Passed in 2007, the ordinance requires public construction projects costing over $1 million to allocate 1% of their funding to the arts, and encourages private projects to do the same. Beveridge recommended that the funding allocation become mandatory for all new construction, public and private.

“I’m not really aware of many buildings, like private building projects, that have actually opted into using 1% for the arts. That on its own, I think, should be something that AMAC should be considering. You know, if people are not opting into that, why? Is it possible and feasible to make it mandatory?” said Beveridge.

She also suggested the Athens Municipal Arts Commission create a subcommittee to investigate whether the city has allocated all the funding through the ordinance that it should have.

Service Safety Director Andy Stone, who oversees the city’s department heads, dismissed Beveridge’s concerns.

“Something to be very, very clear about (is) Arts West is not a separate organization,” Stone said. “Arts West is a building. It’s a building through which the city of Athens uses to program and support the arts in the community, but there’s a host of other activities across the whole community that the city of Athens in its municipal capacity does to support the arts.”

Stone said there are three other positions at Arts West that have yet to be filled, which he attributed to the nationwide labor shortage. He also said that as soon as one of these positions is filled, Arts West will once again return to its regular hours of operation.

The lack of staff is the primary reason why there is no summer programming at Arts West this year. Beveridge said due to her departure, there was no one to oversee such activities. There are plans to host fall arts programming at Arts West, but the programs have not yet been confirmed.

Beveridge said that in order for Arts West to thrive, it needs its own programming.

“Quite frankly, it’s wonderful to wait for the citizenry to come and do something at your place, but that does not guarantee consistent usage. It also does not guarantee what the quality of the programming will be. And, no matter what, the public is always going to attribute whatever happens at the facility as being put on by Arts West,” Beveridge said.

Beveridge suggested Athens should emulate other cities with pro-arts attitudes and form a city-county arts alliance, which she says would act as a “nonprofit group to support the entire area’s arts endeavors.”

She said this would allow for more paid employees to oversee arts in Athens. “Once you have a paid employee, all of a sudden you have a lot more work hours available to these types of matters,” she said.

By contrast, the members of the Athens Municipal Arts Commission are mostly volunteers. They don’t always have time for technical work like assessing how ordinances are implemented.

Beveridge said she did not leave her position at Arts West out of frustration, but rather to focus on her personal art.

“I really did appreciate my time in my role at Arts West. It is probably going to be one of the most meaningful experiences of my life as I look back and reflect on it,” she said. “I care about the arts and the community very deeply.”