Is the Northside Arts Collective finished? Board of directors say yes, many members say no

Photo courtesy the Carney Group and the Northside Marketing Task Force

In the organization's December newsletter, the Northside Arts Collective's board chair Kelly Hoffman wrote that the board has voted to start the process of legally dissolving the organization. Many members are unhappy with the decision, and blame the board, which they say is made up mostly of non-artists. Some are still upset about the termination of the organization's executive director, Connie Beckers, last year. Others want the current board members to resign, and for the artists to take control over the collective, starting over in a sense but without losing the organization's nonprofit status.

Hoffman's letter states that a year ago, the organization was well-respected and had worthwhile programming but also had substantial liabilities, unfunded operational expenses, and close to no assets. 12 months later, she writes, "we have solid financial record keeping and tracking systems, sound fiscal procedures, almost no liabilities, and have forged strategic partnerships for our remaining programs."

Hoffman said in a phone interview that the current board members were getting "burned out," and that despite a call for new board members, no one has stepped forward to join the board.  "We needed new people and new energy," she said, but the response to the call for more board members was minimal. "You can't make it work if you don't have a group of people willing to do the work," she said.

The Northside Arts Collective was founded in 2001 by a group of artists who would got together for potluck dinners using funds from the Minneapolis Arts Commission. Artists living in North Minneapolis would network and talk about art. Connie Beckers said she joined the group at the end of 2002, when things were really starting to gain momentum. "They were starting to voice what they thought the organization could do," she said. The group became focused on connecting artists to one another and to the community, Beckers said.

Beckers became active with the collective right away, helping organize a big art festival called the Spring Art Party, which brought 1,000 people to North Mississippi Regional Park. Most of the participating artists were Northsiders, Beckers said. 

The Spring Art Party continued through 2009, traveling to different parks in the North Side. "It helped people get out of their boundaries," Beckers said, "especially in different parts of North Minneapolis."

Beckers was the first board chair for the group. They started developing programs to help artists be better business people. They assisted artists to get better photographs of their work, develop their portfolios, artist statements, and bios. Eventually NAC started doing exhibitions at places like Papa's Restaurant.

In 2004, the McKnight Foundation granted the organization funding to hire a part-time executive director. Beckers was looking forward to the group hiring a staff person, because she had been putting in 15-20 volunteer hours a week as the board chair in addition to her glass art work. However, NAC members encouraged her to apply for the position, and she ended up working for three years as a part-time employee, although she often worked full-time hours for a part-time salary. 

NAC started to grow. They started a performance series at the Capri Theater, and their exhibition program expanded to shows in other parts of the city. Funding increased, and they moved their office space to the Capri. They also increased Beckers's salary from $40,000 to $60,000.

They also got a big grant from the McKnight Foundation to develop the West Broadway Art Street artistic façade improvement program, which Beckers considers her legacy.  "What this program did was not just improve the look of West Broadway," she said. "It allowed artists to improve their neighborhood. That was a cool thing." 

In 2009, things started to go south, said Beckers, who was let go in February of that year. "My personal opinion," Beckers said, "is that there was a lot of dysfunction around the board." 

According to Beckers, the board had not been helping with fundraising. There were also an increasing number of non-artists and non-Northsiders on the board, she said.

Executive members of the board started having "secret board meetings" that they wouldn't let her attend, she said. Some board members told Beckers that the board was trying to get rid of her. 

Beckers said she was told when she was let go that the organization had run out of money, but when she filed for unemployment, she was unable to get it, and kept getting conflicting answers as to why.  At one point she was told she was fired because of her job performance.  At another point she was told that she quit voluntarily.

Kelly Hoffman said this week that the issue was that rather than being fired, Beckers was offered a position with reduced salary, which she refused to take. In the end, Beckers had a hearing and won her unemployment benefits. However, because of the delay, her home ended up going into foreclosure.

Rob Johnson, one of the founding members of NAC who served on the board from 2004-2006, was one of the people who was very upset when Beckers was asked to leave. He had seen the organization grow from a small group of artists to something much bigger.

According to Johnson, the board began to have loftier goals than the membership wanted. "We started getting board members that looked great on paper," he said, "but these board members were not artists and didn't understand the complex dynamics—how important your relationships are with people in the communities."

According to Johnson, the board blamed Beckers for the financial state of the organization, but according to him, the board should take much of the blame.

After Beckers was terminated, Johnson and his wife Jeanne started looking into the board minutes that they could access. "They didn't have their act together before even hiring Connie," Johnson said. "They didn't even amend the bylaws to having an executive director." 

Johnson disagrees with the board's position that they are dissolving the organization because the membership is not engaged. "I would turn it on its side," he said. Johnson wants NAC to continue—without the current board. "You guys just leave," he said. "And we'll deal with it." He envisions a smaller, quieter NAC.

Johnson said another NAC member, Scott Nieman, sent out a survey to NAC members asking them if they agree with the board's decision. "80 percent of the membership doesn't want to see it dissolve," Johnson said. "We have a board that is so disengaged with the community. They don't go to art events. Many don't live on the Northside."

Hoffman said on December 7 that she had just heard about members wanting to save the organization. She said that she is going to discuss this option with the board.  "You don't necessarily need to have a 501(c)3," she said.

However, Johnson and others don't want to lose the nonprofit status, because it takes so much time and resources to obtain the status, which is necessary to receive tax-deductible donations and most grant funding.

Meanwhile, Beckers has moved on to new endeavors, opening a store (Goddess of Glass) this past June. She was able to get a loan from friend to open the shop, which currently represents about 40 artists. The store sells all handmade items from mostly Northside artists.

NAC's at a crossroads, Johnson said. Many members don't want to see the organization die.  "The board that is there is dysfunctional," he said. "They have done nothing for the members nor do they know what the members want. We really want to step in and bring this back from the brink."

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Sheila Regan's picture
Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.

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Further insight by Robert Johnson

Upon the firnig of Connie 1 year ago, which Was needed because  the Org was frankly out of Money. Upon the request  of the Board I, looked into the  conditions leading up to this problem and  formed An Emergency actionn Committee, this consisted of board members and Org. members. Upon reviewing the Boars meeting minutes, ETC.

 

We found a Board, which was totaly disengaged in the Org. and its membership, had not  revised its  working bylaws to have an Executive Director, had created  and Executive Committe which under the Leadership of Bev Roberts  had Taken Control of all decisions and excluded the ED from any Process or input.  Meeting Minutes, according to Other board members were incorrect  and incomplete, the ED's input was dismissed, Financial responsibilities and  burdens were placed upon the ED, and the Board Stepped back  and did nothing.Even though It clearly was still the Board which should have been responsible for all financial management. Most of the Time the Board could not even come to Quorom.  NAC had stellar growth in little time, and a Board unwilling , and incapable to offer  input, creating long terrm  agendas and plans for the ORG, such as purchasing a builidng, without muchinput form the membership along the way.

Board members were sought for their names, status  and  relations with the CIty  not the Community relations . Bev Roberts quit 9 months ago, stressed out after the IRS began looking into problems. . NAC has bcome a MEss with tthis board, and will take no responsibility for it problems, rather blamed Connie Beckers. I fought hard to remediate the situation, and feared the Org would self destruct after that. Its not the membership is not here, they stll want to  keep the ORG. but we don not want this board.

We, the membership  want them all to just go away. THe members are there 100's of , we just dont want to deal with ths board, and They have no engagement with the membership. 

The vote to Dissolve was not even offeres to the membership, This is a membeship Org. AS far as I know The motion was made to dissolve but the Membership needs to be asked. This has not happened.  and for over 1 year they Board has not even asked for a membership renewal.( amongst other things like rnot even able to get the Spring art Party going )  Oh i could go on . Membership is back  fighting. and will request a vote of no Confidence int he Board by the membership, and politly ask them to just leave.

NAC is a great assett for the northside, it helps create a better community in a community that needs more community why destroy a good thing because you cannot steer the boat and no one wants to be your passanger  because you cant drive straight?

Back to the basics

A board is in charge that are not all artists, and are not all Northsiders.  With their handling of the debacle last year and its whining through out  this year, I am not surprised that no one has stepped up to take over from them.   They were shown last year how to create funds by setting up fundraisers, that cast little to no money.   A fundraiser was held at the The Warren-An Artist Habitat  with little help from the NAC board.  People donated art and brought a wonderful potluck.  We planned and implemented it in weeks.   The funds raised was over 2,000, the cost $110.  Now that will not happen everytime, but it does show what can be done if there was drive.   The current board did not have the interest of the members in mind.  Their increasingly extravagant fund raisers alienated the members and cost them dear.  

This organization can be saved, not with its current board.  Do not dissolve the organization.  Put it in dormancy, until the stigma of the current leadership is gone and there is a board willing to go back to basics and serve its members.

 

 

Listen to the members

Sounds like the board needs to listen to the membership and hold some emergency election meetings. If the board members don't want to continue that is fine, hand it off to the members that do want to keep the organization alive and just back out like some members are asking.

If there is a divide as to whether the majority of the  members want it dissolved or majority want it alive, then hold a membership wide meeting and take an official vote.

Do everything openly, transparently, and legitimately. It's that simple. Don't just dissolve the organization because current board members are burnt out. Hand it off.

(disclosure: I am not a NAC member nor an artist. I am a northsider, and I was very excited about the steam that NAC seemed to be picking up under the work of Connie Beckers)

I will serve on the Board!

Count me in to help this org survive. I am an artist, I live on the Northside, Heck I even live in Connie's "Funky Bungalo"! Step aside silly board and let me IN!

Northside Arts Collective response.

These comments are so full of misinformation that it would take all day to go through them point by point. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if it's informed by misinformation and outright lies. It would take me all day to go through and these comments and point out the mispreprensentations. I'm not sure that there is anything to gain from that so I will limit my comments to the following:
Every single board member has acted in what they believed was the best interest of the organization. Every decision was thought through. Every board member deeply cares about the Northside. You can choose to not believe that.  Also, every board members except one IS an artists and every single one cares deeply about the arts and the impact Arists can have in a community. And what I think is just great about all of these comments, negativity, and energy is that for the last TWELVE months the board has been asking members to come forward and join the board. We have been MORE THAN WILLING to give others the leadership positions. Sadly, this public commenting as well as the personal emails sent to me and the namecalling of Facebook makes the organization look compelety disfunctional. A more balanced and less biased article would also have been nice to see.

NAC board member names

Would it be possible to list the current NAC board members?

I'll volunteer too!

I remember volunteering for that first Spring Arts Party, and sitting in on a few meetings at Connie's and at Homewood.

It's ridicules to dissolve an organization the community loves. That action speaks to something politicaly sinister.

Perhaps the membership of this organization is the most powerful, true grassroots community the northside has, and certain other power structures are threatened by it's existance. Thus they infiltrate and dissolve. That's what this all sounds like to me. Power structure attempting to disengage the creativity of the citizens, as they steamroll development plans. It's the 2030 jocky for power, folks! 

Above the fall,

Ray

Trying to see both sides

 

 

There are always two sides to every coin. Having said that, I am an artist here on the north side, and my observations of NAC over the last year have left me flat.  The lack of transparency has been troubling.  Yes, there have been calls for help, but lacking details and good faith actions, I have felt a complete disconnect from my board.  For a non-profit organization, I would think that fundraising would be one of its first priorities, yet when notices do not even go out for the basic membership renewal, things are not healthy.

In watching the debate of whose responsibility it is to watch the purse strings and financial obligations, it is sad to see that people do not know their roles at a board level.  I belong or have belonged to multiple non-profits, and from that experience I know that everyone on the board is responsible for the actions of the organization, and sometimes have a LEGAL responsibility.  If a board member is not vigilant in monitoring the effects of decisions by other members, they are just as culpable by maintaining the status quo.

That being said, I admit that I have had adopted a wait and see attitude.  I have had a membership with NAC for two years starting at a NAC Spring Art Party.  It ran out this last June.  Was I ever contacted? No, I had to ask, and choose not to renew.  At that point, the Art Party was postponed until fall.  I had not seen anything about the professional series, the Twice the Gift opportunity, or even another open house at the NAC office.  Fine if the organization was cash strapped, I can see the Art Party being postponed, but any kind of community building to bring Artists together doesn't cost anything.  Yes, it takes people to run and organizing things, but when a framework isn't presented, and people feel burned, a general call for help is not very endearing.

What can I do now?  While I would like to step forward for a board membership, my bandwidth is very full already.  However, working on a committee could possibly fit into my schedule, but first I want to see a framework reestablished with long term goals. But right now with a meeting coming up on Monday, I propose putting off the dissolution of NAC for six months while a selection committee searches for a new board. If we cannot come to terms by that time, it is time to let NAC go.

This organization had great potential, and can have it again.  I am always the first to say this as an artist, we tend to be a flaky bunch, but that does not mean we cannot have a solid, substantial, stable organization that is representative of the people who live on the Northside.

NEW BOARD implemented and A Correction

on 12-13  a now board, with the exception of a few carrover board members was implemented.

The board came form the membership and long time NAC volunteers. I was one of the founders, and am dedicitad to keep  the NON profit alive. Any and all programs  and partnerships in place will continue as planned.

I am grateful for the Boards work up to this date. They were forced form an advisory to a working board- and had to resolve a lot of issues. But had no ability to  connect to the membership.

ONE CORRECTION  In hast of writing in the previous post, and in anger i errored in stateing the "IRS begn looking into problems" is  would be more correct in statin there  was  State Unemployment and taxation issue and there were some unpaid taxes and penalties.