Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Arts and Cultural Council is at a financial crossroads

Artist Shamira Nicolas works on a piece in her Latta Road studio. Nicolas has shown her work at the The Gallery at the Arts and Cultural Council and has been a member of the organization for three years.

Every year, the Arts and Cultural Council for Greater Rochester administers tens of thousands of dollars in grants for financially struggling artists and arts organizations.
These days, the council could count itself among those in need. Six consecutive years of operational deficits have the council on the brink of insolvency on paper, with its assets barely outweighing its liabilities as of its last tax filing.
The circumstances have forced the council to cut staff from four to three positions, outsource some functions, rely more heavily on volunteers, tap a line of credit, and delay projects, according to board members and public financial records. The result is fewer resources for the region’s arts community.
“Things that may be wonderful to do, we may not be able to do,” the council’s board chairwoman, Grace Tillinghast, said in a recent interview at the council’s North Goodman Street office. “We have to be realistic. It’s going to be a realistic budget that will allow us to move forward.”

Leadership change

The grim financial outlook coincides with a transition in leadership at the council, which announced in December that its longtime executive director, Sarah Lentini, would step down in January after 14 years to “pursue new professional opportunities.”
That has left some artists to speculate on what the change means for the council’s future. “We’re wondering where it’s going next,” said Shamira Nicolas, whose pen on canvas work hangs in the council’s gallery.
“Sarah was devoted to the whole organization and when she left, no one told us why. A lot of people are in the dark.”
Lentini did not respond to a message seeking insight into her departure and the future of the council. She has been temporarily replaced by the council’s director of grants, David Semple.
Current and former council board members and artists in separate interviews cast Lentini’s resignation as a surprise. They were effusive in their praise for her tenure, crediting her with overseeing the building of corporate office and gallery space, creating a legal assistance program for artists, tirelessly advocating, and founding Metropolitanmagazine, a glossy quarterly publication.

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