A vision for the arts
Durango Arts Center gets back on its feet

The Durango Arts Center sits open and ready for business during the current “Holiday Art Olé” exhibit. After an extremely trying year, the local arts institution is regrouping and recovering. New board members and new funding sources are just a couple of the things helping the DAC get back on solid ground./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Jules Masterjohn

People’s early forties can be rough years as they evaluate where their lives have landed in relationship to where they might have been. Last week, the Durango Arts Center turned 43 years old, and it is a prime example that organizations, like humans, can encounter rocky times during their fourth decade.

Blown about by internal difficulties that led to financial debts over the last few years – or as former DAC board member Rich Fletcher put it, “a perfect storm” – the region’s only nonprofit arts center is steering toward calmer waters.

A string of successful endeavors that began late last summer have drawn new energy, interest and potential money back to the organization. A board member reported this week that an anonymous individual has given “seed money” to go toward adult visual arts projects and programs. Some of this money was recently used to buy handmade goods from the African Arts Market to be sold in the DAC gift shop. The proceeds from these sales will go into a dedicated fund for “anything adult visual arts related.” That could mean merchandise for the gift shop, funds for exhibition sponsorship or promotion for adult visual arts classes. Several people have recently contacted the DAC about teaching adult classes. According to board member Maureen May, the organization will “do its best to accommodate the growing interest.”

A part of the proceeds also will be used for overhead costs related to the adult visual arts programs. This is welcome news since operating funds are some of the hardest to come by due to granters’ reticence to pay for bookkeeping, utility bills or anything unrelated to direct program services.

In addition, a small philanthropic group is coalescing for the purpose of hosting quarterly fund-raising events for these programs. The DAC’s guardian visual art angels have heard the call and are flying in with full force.

Durango Arts Center volunteers Pat Rustad (left) and Doris Andrew share a laugh at the Durango Arts Center on Tuesday. Volunteers donated more than 5,000 hours to the organization in 2008./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

That’s just the recent good news. Earlier this month, the Board of Directors, which has been revitalized with an influx of new members, decided to take a fresh look at how the organization provides arts services to the community. At a meeting last week, board members Maureen May, Connie Imig and Janice Weeks said the board is open to anyone coming in to propose a program. This is good news for the many talented, creative and entrepreneurial individuals in the community.

May, who joined the board this year, said she sees the board growing stronger by the week. “We have new people who are willing to ask the right questions and to challenge the status quo. It is hard to work on a board that is nervous to make change. We are getting more confident.” Connie Imig agreed, “This board is willing to take some risks. This board is attuned to business ethics and is going to do what is right at all costs.”

This uncompromising stance has been encouraged by an advisory group of half a dozen longtime locals, DAC supporters and experienced businesspeople. It was through the advisory group that the board got the notion to reevaluate its programs. The board is currently reviewing all programs for revenue generation, though money is not the only factor in evaluating successful and meaningful programs. “There is cost-benefit and community benefit to take into consideration,” the board members offered.

The DAC has drafted a six-month emergency budget, and the organization’s business plan is under review by a Fort Lewis College business class. Janice Weeks, the board’s treasurer, said that significant payments have been made to the Internal Revenue Service for owed payroll taxes. These efforts are reassuring to donors waiting in the wings for the organization to become solvent.

Meanwhile, a few staff members and many volunteers will continue to keep the organization afloat. In 2008, volunteers donated more than 5,000 hours to the organization, from serving on the board to visiting schools, giving art lessons, greeting visitors, answering phones and installing exhibits.

What lies ahead for the DAC? Berger is working on a membership drive to “bring people back to the DAC,” and the 40-something annual Four Corners Commission juried exhibition will be held in January. Back for 2010 are the Diamond Circle Melodrama with a troupe of mostly local performers and the Durango Arts Festival. New on the horizon is an Artists Market for regional makers in August as well as an Emerging Artists Show,

Perhaps, as the DAC gets firmly back on its feet, it will revive the traveling exhibits program that brings well-known artists’ work to the region. All artists grow from exposure to other artists, new ideas, and diverse art forms. It’s a BIG world out there. Cross-pollination is a cornerstone to deeper appreciation and understanding of creativity, and both ensure a vital, long-lived arts community. •

Interested in proposing a program or class at the DAC? Contact board liaison Maureen May at maymaureen@yahoo.com or call the DAC at 259-2606.