Financial turnaround needed following two years of depleted reserves
A reconstituted board and leadership team at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts (SCA) is poised to leap into a “grassroots future” for the nonprofit, volunteer-based organization based on returning to its original programs, practices and philosophy.
Founded in 1988 out of a spare closet at the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce, the west county’s major art facility and program center over the last two years veered into unsustainable economic times and depleted much of its financial reserves. But the new leadership has now cut $200,000 in expenses while preserving all of its programming and is now looking for a big boost from past, present and new members and volunteers.
“We are all here to support the arts which stimulates, celebrates and enriches all of our lives,” SCA board president Sally Baker told a large crowd of supporters at a “town hall” meeting about the center’s future, held on Leap Day last Saturday at the center.
“We know we are preaching to the choir, but thanks for being here.”
SCA’s artistic director Catherine Devriese and CFO Una Glass outlined new financial plans that will preserve SCA’s many programs including open studio tour events ArTrails and Art at the Source and the annual Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival, screening this year from March 27-29. Other year-round programs include live music and literary performances, ceramics and other art classes, juried gallery shows and arts education programs for all ages. The center is supported by memberships and participation fees, limited one-time government grants and individual and local business donations. Its overall budget for 2020 is $850,000.
“We’re OK, but we had a significant decrease in our reserves over the past two years,” reported Glass, who is a contract fiscal consultant and not an employee. “The board had to lay off most of the higher paid staff and go back to the earlier years of relying more on volunteers and community support. We’re facing a lean, but not mean, future. We are seeking to build a grassroots future.”
SCA now has nine employees, led by Devriese who has been at SCA for nine years. Other employees do facilities maintenance, art instruction, volunteer coordination, administration and community outreach. Baker is joined on the SCA board by Timothy Near, Erica Phillips, Audra Caron, Lu Frazier, Marsha Sue Lustig, Sue Labouvie and Steve Wax.
Baker, who is a retired arts teacher and painter, said her hopes are the SCA can continue supporting the arts during times when arts programs, funding and curriculums are being cut on local schools.
“We’ve been fighting for a long time to preserve our arts because we know how important the arts matters to all our lives,” she said.
The Sebastopol Center for the Arts was founded in 1988 by Linda Galletta, Bill Haigwood and other members of the chamber of commerce’s economic development committee. Galletta served as executive director until her retirement in 2017. For many years she was the center’s only paid employee. Following Galletta’s retirement, the board of directors sought new expansions and development and added new executive staff, including Anjana Utarid to replace Galletta.
As explained by Glass and Devriese on Saturday, a historic flood (2019), two major wildfires (2017 and 2019) and debilitating forced power outages (2019) caused a series of economic calamities which thwarted the center’s growth and expansion plans.
“We know you were worried,” Devriese told the crowd of more than 100 people. “So we wanted to tell you we’re really OK. ‘Onward’ is our motto.” The new direction for SCA will be based on the three fundamental principles of transparency, respectful communication and collaboration, Devriese said.
“We have to rely on you,” she said. “Nothing can be done by just a small handful of people.”
Saturday’s attendees were given purple pencils and asked to circulate among tables representing the various activities and programs operated under the umbrella of SCA. Individuals used their pencils to renew their paid memberships, volunteer, make donation pledges and offer written comments and questions.
SCA operates in seven different art program areas, including visual arts, literary arts, ceramics, performance, arts education and film. It also offers two prominent annual open studio tour events. Education programs for 2020 are budgeted to cost $65,000, similar to the cost for this month’s 13th annual Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival. Art Trails, Art at the Source and one other open studio event are budgeted to cost $115,000.
Direct fees and earned income from renting the facility covers 76% of the budget and 24% comes from voluntary contributions, Glass reported.
The Sebastopol Center for the Arts has a long-term lease with the County of Sonoma for use of the Sebastopol Veteran’s Memorial Building on High Street in Sebastopol. The nonprofit pays an annual rent and must provide all maintenance. Over its 32 years, SCA has been located in the basement of the Sebastopol Methodist Church, a brief stay in crammed quarters on Laguna Way and in a renovated train depot building on Depot Street, which is now part of the Barlow. SCA moved to the Veteran’s Building in 2010.