Center for Crying Wolf
After the Center for Contemporary Arts’ board of directors informed staff just before Christmas that the venerable nonprofit arts organization would shut its doors at the end of 2009, it hollered “punk’d!” On Wednesday, Dec. 30, it announced that programming as usual would continue at CCA…after a brief hiatus.
Oh well, I suppose it wouldn’t be the holidays without CCA almost closing.
The organization has struggled for solvency since the mid-1990s (disclosure: I served as executive director at CCA from 1997 through 1999), with occasional upswings tempered by lease battles, high director turnover, philanthropic hesitancy and the occasional Great Recession.
CCA’s announcement that it has, once more, avoided the ledge has to be taken as good news. After all, just a couple of years ago, the community rallied around the nonprofit and Santa Fe’s legislative delegation went to bat to ensure the long-term security of CCA at its current location.
It’s true that shortly after the building was secured, then Executive Director Steve Buck left abruptly among a cloud of euphemisms that translate to “sacked” in any language, causing a small crisis in confidence among the foundations and philanthropists who had supported CCA with renewed dedication. And when Visual Arts Director Cyndi Conn left to pursue her own curating projects, the arts programming floundered a bit. But strong board involvement, other committed staff, determined volunteers and excellent management of the cinematheque kept the mission on track.
Now the organization is alleged to be carrying more than $1 million in debt, a crippling factor even in a good economy with successful programming. How an organization that has received so much past community adoration and state largesse can find itself backed into such a corner is a question worth asking. Or more to the point, since history keeps repeating itself, isn’t it time the core operating model was re-evaluated?
Apparently, two major anonymous donors (who we may be certain are usual suspects) came forward with pledges in the hundreds of thousands of dollars—including one multi-year pledge—in order to stave off the angel of nonprofit death this time around. CCA’s press release about its turn of fortune claims the organization is suddenly in a better financial position than it has been in years. I’m sure it feels that way. But an organization running under CCA’s operational paradigm really can’t survive long term without a well-managed $5 to $10 million endowment.
If an endowment isn’t on the horizon, CCA needs to use its current cash infusion to support a ground-up reassessment of its mission, value and operational premise. The community has rallied around CCA when the organization has cried “wolf” in the past. This time, the community responded with a resigned shrug. Running out of money is one kind of problem, but running out of constituents who care is an altogether more dangerous proposition.
Normally, I see eye to eye with the American Civil Liberties Union, but this resistance to superior airport scanning technology is ridiculous. Equating the right to privacy with body shape is like a bad punch line. I’ve got news for everyone who doesn’t want leering TSA agents mocking their paunches and man boobs: Your body shape is not private—we can see it without scanners.
Emperor’s New Trail
City officials recently announced that a “short-term fix” for pedestrians and cyclists crossing St. Francis Drive would involve diverting trail users up to the cross walk at the intersection with Cerrillos Road.
Officials noted that the action would not cost too much money and could potentially be completed by spring or early summer. But that’s what pedestrians and cyclists do now. Anyone want to start a betting pool on how much money and time the city will spend in order to not change a thing?
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