The Crossing Arts Alliance is weathering an unexpected change in leadership and a worsening financial pulse, drained of vitality by overhead and the lack of a benefactor, according to the group's spokeswoman.
"Money was not an issue in our change of leadership," Alliance president Evelyn Matthies said this week, "but we definitely need more money."
The monthly rent payments on the arts-advocacy nonprofit's historical downtown digs are "draining" the money pond, already salted by programming and promotional expenses, she said.
On the inputs side, the long-awaited wave of public and private grants has failed to materialize, the president said, and a financial guardian angel has yet to surface, checkbook in hand.
Low revenues and high expenses make for a lethal combination, but Matthies said she expects the organization will be around long into the future.
But first it must get over some hurdles, including the resignation earlier this month by the first-and-only executive director in the group's brief existence.
Deborah Jacobs, a former university academic native to the area, assumed the role nearly 15 months ago. She quit the job earlier this month, citing personal and creative reasons.
Her resignation was accepted reluctantly by the Alliance board, but its members quickly moved to reorganize the shop -- without the burdens of a $45,000-a-year position at the top.
Her contract terms awarded the salary, but Jacobs accepted the job fully aware she'd have to raise the money to pay for it. Matthies said this week that in reality the executive director worked for much less, contributing a chunk of it back to the group that employed her.
A lakeside resident with a Nisswa address, Jacobs declined to discuss her departure in a telephone call this week, blaming a hectic schedule and last-minute travel preparations.
A recent overseas trip with her chorale group triggered Jacobs' desires to return to her art forms -- music, poetry and the like -- and a constant beckoning from the area's culinary interest, Matthies said.
A former women's studies professor, Jacobs is published regularly as a food writer, tapping into her culinary skills for commentary. She also an activist in promoting chorale music through the schools.
Matthies said Jacobs will continue to volunteer her time to the Alliance, concentrating on grant-writing opportunities that might deposit some badly needed cash into Alliance accounts.
"We will miss her and tried, in fact, to get her to stay," Matthies said. "Deborah is still working hard on our grant applications (as a volunteer), but now she doesn't have to feel responsible for them."
The Alliance emerged in 2001 from an area-wide planning process -- launched with Blandin Foundation technical and financial support three years ago -- that identified the arts as a platform for cultural and economic improvement across the region.
A statement, said at the time by one of its founders, spoke volumes about the essence of the group's mission: "I don't think we'll ever get to the point where there is too much art."
One of the Alliance's first orders of business was to enter into a two-year lease for its downtown office-and-gallery headquarters -- in one of the crown jewels among local properties on the National Registry of Historic Places.
A flurry of arts-related classes, openings, receptions and exhibitions followed like the tail of an anxious dog, excitedly catalogued in a monthly newsletter to its 500-plus-and-rapidly-growing membership.
But the pace of activity has lately shed its budgetary truth at the Alliance's doorstep, prompting a downsizing of the organization's staff-related budget, as well as its real estate aspirations.
Matthies said the executive director has been replaced by a part-time-but-paid "operation director" and a part-time, unpaid volunteer coordinator. And any ideas about purchasing its headquarter building anytime soon have been put on hold, the president added.
"We love the location (617 Laurel St.) ... but it is a financial drain," Matthies said. "I'm not sure we'll be (in the building) two years from now. Hopefully we can keep the location but we're going just month-to-month (with budget) as it is.
"It isn't that we're going to fold," she added. "We'll be around as an organization ... even if it means we have to find a different space."
Matthies cited the growing number of Alliance members -- each has paid a fee -- and an enthusiastic public response to the group's events as reasons for her optimism.
"We are still seeing that we are progressing forward each day," she said, "indicating we are a strong group and that we look forward to great things in our future."
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