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In the past, Cobourg has contributed $45,000 per year in "forgiven rent" plus a $30,000 annual grant but this has not been enough.  Dorette Carter is in court on charges of selling part of the collection to cover deficiencies so it’s clear that the Art Gallery of Northumberland (AGN) has been running a deficit for a while.  In January, Council approved a payment of $20,000 – an advance on the usual $30K annual grant - and at a special Council meeting this afternoon, the AGN asked council to “provide a $50,000 operating grant to AGN immediately”.  Otherwise, the Gallery would have to close.

The Gallery provided a collection of supporting documents available as attachments to the meeting agenda here - they tell a grim story.  At the Council meeting, AGN Treasurer Rick Miller read out the Executive Summary (Download here).

art gallery northumberlandBecause of the bad financial situation, donors and “public funding agencies such as Ontario Arts Council and Ontario Trillium Fund” have “advised the President of AGN that further funding would not be forthcoming until such time as the AGN’s house was ‘in order’ in terms of a strategic plan, improved governance, stronger programming, and demonstrated strong management of day‐to‐day operations.”  There has been action to define what these will be (See Annual General Meeting report here) but there is a Catch 22.  Nobody wants to provide funding unless there are improvements in place and improvements require funding.

The first step is to hire a full-time Gallery Manager – or as the person will be called: Director of Visitor Services & Administration.  There are 31 applications for the position but who would want to accept a position if there is no money to pay them?

So the AGN is asking that:

The Town provides a $50,000 operating grant to AGN immediately (to) allow AGN to move forward with extending an offer of employment for the Director of Visitor Services & Administration position, and investment in building and funding programs for the coming year. [In response to a question from Forrest Rowden as to whether this would be enough, Rick’s response was yes.]

The Director would be on a one year contract and it would depend on donations and grants received as to what happens after that. But the AGN says:

  • Discussions to date with prospective donors have indicated that they would be willing to make a sizeable donation if there is a demonstrated commitment from the Town and the community to its future success. [In fact Rick said that two donors had written cheques but not given them pending Town support].
  • (But) without a material cash injection to “boot strap” the Gallery, we will not be able to re-open and the AGN Board will need to consider initiating “wind up” legal procedures and disposition of the AGN Permanent Collection

Background

  • The total value of the proceeds that were diverted from the Permanent Collection is approximately $207,000. This means that the Gallery operations “owe” the Permanent Collection $207,000. This debt has now been written off but there is also a bank line of credit of $40,000 for operating expenses.
  • Over a period of time, the former Director/Curator also concealed from the AGN Board of Directors the fact that funding agencies (Ontario Arts Council, Trillium Fund) expressed concerns about non-compliance of AGN to their respective published standards and guidelines for Public Galleries.  [No wonder the funding agencies have lost faith in the AGN.]
  • When the Gallery re-opens early September, it will be open Saturdays and Sundays year round unlike previously.  This should help make the Gallery a better attraction to residents and tourists. The cost of security for weekends is included in the budget and will not require an additional gtrant from the Town. There are also plans to spread the collection around the whole county (in secure locations) so that the County might be willing to provide support.
  • AGN will apply to Trillium and the Arts Council of Ontario for grants in October but any money to be received is not part of the current budget. Budgeting is now very conservative.

The AGN Board further states that:

  • If this proposal is agreed by the Town, the Board of AGN proposes to call a Press Conference announcing the Town’s grant and firm plans to reopen in September.
  • The Board is confident the announcement of this grant by the Town will trigger immediate and material donation activity in the community; this will be actively marketed by the Board.
  • The AGN undertakes to submit monthly [or perhaps quarterly] reports to the Town on progress with respect to raising donations

debra mccarthyWhen questioned by Gil, Rick said that upon approval, interviews with the top 6 candidates would start tomorrow and the Director would hopefully be in place by mid August.

Staff recommendation:

THAT Council approves a $50,000 operating grant to the Art Gallery of Northumberland (AGN) immediately to allow AGN to move forward with extending an offer of employment for the Director of Visitor Services and Administration position, and investment in building and funding programs for the coming year.

Councillor Debra McCarthy, Coordinator responsible for Culture and Arts (photo above right) was supportive of the recommendation and moved a motion per the staff recommendation but including that funds should be taken from “Holdco reserves”.

The motion was passed unanimously (although Larry Sherwin was absent).

Note on Court Case
Dorette Carter’s case was scheduled for Pre-Trial today but as yet there is no word on the result, if any. Update: as of July 21, the pre-trial has been adjourned to August 31, 2015. More here.

 

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