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More about an arts center

15 March 2006 The Elginite 2 Comments

Last week I mentioned the possibility of an art(s) center in Elgin. I may not have been clear about what I meant. Some museums call themselves art centers, but by art center I didn’t mean museum (though Elgin can use one of those too). What I meant was a place that offers art programs and instruction, galleries, studios and so on; a place where artists work, not just a place where their works are displayed. Here are some more examples:

The last two of these are especially interesting. Both are housed in massive old industrial buildings.

The Beaver Mill, home of the CAC, is a 130,000 sq ft historic brick and stone mill… The CAC comprises 25,000 sq ft of the building and houses five galleries, a residency hall, and approximately 12,000 sq ft of studio space. (source: CAC|North Adams)

Yeah that’s big. As for the Torpedo Factory, it has 3 levels of 84 artist studios, 8 group studios and 6 galleries.

The Torpedo Factory’s experience may be instructive for Elgin:

Work began on the building in May of 1974, with artists and the City of Alexandria working together to renovate, build and clean out the interior…By July, artists had converted the huge space into a complex of bright and clean studios. Most of the studio spaces had been reserved by that time from a list of juried artists.

By 1983, the building needed major repairs and improvements. As part of a sale/lease-back agreement (a use of special federal tax provisions allowing for renovation of historic buildings), the building was sold to Alexandria Art Center Associates, leased back from AACA by the City, and subleased to the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association. As part of the sale agreement, the City had a one time repurchase option to be exercised in 1998.

The City Council approved the repurchase on August 31, 1998. The purchase price was negotiated in a prescribed series of appraisals. A balloon payment from the original loan to AACA in 1983 covered most of the purchase cost.

In the lease agreement that ran from 1983 to 1998, the City was responsible on an annual basis for many operating costs, a percentage of real estate taxes, and 1/3 of the utilities in addition to annual rent payments. Since 1983, the City and the artists have split equally the operating costs of the Art Center including the payroll for city staff.

In 1994, the Office of Budget and Management did a management study of the Art Center. At this time a recommendation to “privatize” the Art Center in 1998 was made by the City Manager. Over the last two years, the Artists’ Association and the City have negotiated parameters which govern the privatization.

On September 1, 1998 the Artists’ Association took over all management of the building, and the City now acts as landlord. Factored into the artists’ rent were the repurchase cost in excess of the balloon payment, including 62% (a number based on the artist-occupied percentage of the building) of the interest, general service operating costs, and all future maintenance and repair costs excluding exterior repairs. The artists are responsible for 62% of utility costs. All other operating costs are borne by the artists, including all administrative, janitorial, security, staff, advertising, printing, minor building maintenance, lighting supplies, and insurance for the entire building. (source: Torpedo Factory)

In my view, projects like this may offer a higher return and incur fewer risks than the boondoggles to which we have become accustomed.

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2 Responses to “More about an arts center”

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  1. Here’s a tip.

    Go to http://www.artsjournal.com/artfulmanager/

    for more information on arts and such. You might find it useful in your research.

    If you’re really crazy for arts, go to http://www.artsjournal.org

    Have fun.

  2. The Elginite says:

    Good tip. Thanks!