Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Arts Go First

Looks like I'm losing my studio space. The Worcester Craft Center, where I have rented space for the past two years, has announced it is closing its doors for a "strategic pause" [pdf file]. To me, strategic pause sounds very ominous. The Board is basically giving up and putting out an APB for funding. I'm not sure whether to use the past tense or the present tense in writing this post. The Center took the studio renters money for January so we are allowed to continue to use our spaces until the end of the month; but there are no longer any employees at the Center. No classes, no gift shop, no one to pay for supplies or clay, no one to fire the kilns, no one to maintain the equipment.

Everyone but the Executive Director was fired yesterday; a few people will stay on for a day or two, but that's it. They even closed the gift shop so apparently bringing in modest amounts of money is not considered important. (The gift shop was profitable.) The glass studio which is in a separate building is now offering all kinds of rentals, of space and different kinds of equipment.

The Craft Center has been in financial straits for years and the economic crisis has made things worse. Here's the financial situation according to the Telegram:

The decision, reached at a trustees meeting Monday night, came after pressure from creditors and a significant decline in tuition, donations and other revenue added up to a shortfall of about $700,000, said David J. Firstenberg, president of the board of trustees. To reopen, the center needs about $1.2 million, to retire debt and finance a restart, he said, while acknowledging that that is a steep challenge in the current economic climate.

Last summer, the Center for Crafts had just begun to recover from several years of serious financial struggles. The board had worked hard to stabilize the venerable institution, Ms. Walzer had been hired as a permanent director after a period when the position had been a revolving-door, and a $1.2 million capital campaign was showing promise. The board had hoped to use some of the money to rebuild the staff after several rounds of budget cuts in recent years had gutted it. There was no marketing director or accountant on staff, for example, and several craft areas languished without department heads.

Then, in October, the recession deepened and the money flow ebbed. Some capital campaign pledges didn’t come through, and investment portfolios deflated. Tuition revenue declined as prospective students became more conservative with spending.


The craft center is hampered in borrowing its way out of the crisis by the debt it has already incurred. Among major creditors are vendors such as utilities and printers, who are owed about $140,000. “A significant portion of that is over 90 days and so we’ve been stringing vendors along and that gets dicey after a while,” Mr. Firstenberg said.

There also is a substantial institutional debt. The Non-Profit Funding Foundation loaned the craft center $330,000 in 2004, on which $290,000 is still owed. “We’ve been making interest-only payments for a period of time and they’ve been, not at all inappropriately, asking when we were going to begin making principal payments,” Mr. Firstenberg said. The Commonwealth National Bank in Worcester, where the craft center does most of its banking, also has been receiving interest-only payments on loans totaling about $29,000, he said. Other debt is in friendlier hands, he said, friends of the institution that had made loans last fiscal year to help hold the center over until pledge money came in.

I stopped in yesterday afternoon to check on the work which came out of the soda kiln the Monday before Christmas. (Which turned out really well, BTW.) The lights were off, but I figured that there was just no one in working. Nope. The head of the clay studio broke the bad news to me; of course, it's far worse for him, a loyal 15-year-professional who is out of a job. Apparently rumors had been swirling around the entire time I've been gone, so at least I missed the anticipatory anxiety. I just get the thud of loss and stress.

Angry deep thought: If the Craft Center had had the foresight to change its name to Worcester Center for Banking and Crafts a few years ago, we could fill out a two page form [pdf file] and get a billion dollars from Hank Paulsen.

This is a tragedy for the city of Worcester. The schoolkids who took classes at the Center, the high school students in the Teen Apprentice Program, all the adults who have taken classes, all will miss the school. Of course, part of the problem that the Crafts Center has had is that it is not the most well-known of Worcester's cultural institutions. PR was never their strong suit.

The clay studio is the largest of the Craft Center's areas by number of students, and that community will want to stay together. One of the great things about the Craft Center is the ability to work in a collegial atmosphere, with everyone getting great ideas and inspiration from each other. If the Center does close that will be my priority, being able to stay in touch and work near some of the artists I've met and become good friends with.

A sad day.

Worcester Telegram: Center for Crafts shuts doors

Slide Show: Worcester Craft Center Over the Years

Worcester Craft Center

Strategic Pause letter from WCC (pdf)

New Street Glass Studio Hot Shop Rental Rates


AnfieldIron said...

Sorry to hear the news about the Craft Center, Truth. I'll keep my fingers crossed (and say a prayer or two) that a benefactor will step forward.

Love you,


truth said...

Thanks bro.