Northside Arts Collective gets $20K x 2 to refocus on Northside artists, community


Their files are in a basement by a waste stack, perhaps a painful irony as for the last few months anyone not on their e-news list may have wondered if Northside Arts Collective (NAC) is circling the drain.

“That’s what I’d expect the word on the street to be,” said NAC president Kelly Hoffman, when told that many people assume the organization is going out of business or not in a position to be of much use. “It’s frustrating, because we have been trying to make decisions that are the best for the organization, and to get on our feet and operate efficiently. But how would they know? We haven’t put a message out.”

NAC recently received a commitment for $20,000 per year for two years in general operating funds from McKnight Foundation, which Hoffman said will help rebuild the organization. They’ve given up storefront office space and “gone virtual,” sold off furniture, and are storing records in the basement of Urban Homeworks, where NAC board member Ryan Peterson works. Hoffman said, “We can use the conference room. For larger meetings, we have enough friends on the avenue that we can find meeting spaces.”

Back up. What happened? In February this year, NAC board went through a confusing and bitter time, losing their executive director, Connie Beckers, and scrambling to account and make up for financial deficits.

Beckers has since started a retail business selling art by Northsiders on consignment, and is continuing to make glass art and hold classes, her original profession. She said it is rewarding to be accomplishing one of the things the organization might have done.

Vickie Benson of the McKnight Foundation, confirming the $20,000 per year commitment, said it is not unusual for there to be turmoil in a young organization, arts or otherwise. The initial commitment was made early in the year, but was withheld during the changes, the foundation’s standard reaction to major change. “It is an important collection of artists and it’s important to the Northside community.” She said NAC has gotten some of their traction back, and is worth supporting.

Hoffman said about half of NAC’s debts, mostly related to the music concert series held at the Capri last year and artists owed for designing artistic business facades, have been paid, “and it is safe to say we will pay all our debts.”

The organization’s short-term consultant, Tene Wells, identified a new person to work on NAC’s bookkeeping. Board members are working out a way to get their internet-based phone messages responded to predictably.

Hoffman said NAC would be returning to a focus on Northside artists and the Northside community. “We got distracted by numbers of members; can we build to 200, or 220? Well, maybe now we may only be able to have 100 but it’s about who’s on the Northside and what’s useful. Perhaps it’s ‘can we be a connector?’ – Creating space for people to meet other artists, connect and have relationships.”

Hoffman said NAC will look to partner in projects with other organizations who have management infrastructure, such as West Broadway Business and Area Coalition (WBC), which is managing the facade grant program already underway, and future funding if it is obtained. “NAC will still participate in the selection, and making sure they are local artists,” but the other organization will keep the books, make disbursements, and take applications. NAC helped recruit artists for FLOW but the rest of the arrangements were handled by the other organizations involved.

NAC has an Exhibitions Committee working on developing economic opportunities for artists. The board is considering whether to continue programs like “Inside the Artist’s Studio” where members visit each other, and “The Business of Art” or the portfolio creation days when consultants help artists with artist statements, head shots and photos of their work. The board recently held a happy hour on short notice at Good Sports bar where a modest number of people came out, but a few were new “so some good connections were made,” Hoffman said.

The NAC Communications Committee recently completed a member survey, though Hoffman said she has not seen the findings. She said there would be “listening sessions.” “As we come up from the ashes we’re getting rid of what is not useful and figuring out what is. We need strategic partnerships.”

Hoffman said the board consists of herself, Peterson, Phil Hernandez, Lucy Yogerst, Ancinetta Caldwell, Javier Sampedro, and Al Bertke. Former chair Bev Roberts and Carolyn Bacon are both on leave, Hoffman said. The November annual meeting and gala will be held, “it’s time to get that committee together.”

Hoffman said the board is looking for additional members with different skill sets and to distribute the work that needs to be done. “I’m spending more time on this than I should be,” said Hoffman, who is employed full time and estimates her NAC commitment at 15 hours a week. Anyone who would like to help, she said, should call her cell phone at 412-425-8525.