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Changes afoot as BAC hangs on

BAC now features crafts and arts together in six-week group exhibits. - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
BAC now features crafts and arts together in six-week group exhibits.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

Bainbridge Arts and Crafts celebrates its 55th anniversary this year.

The gallery plans a written history and special events – but equally noteworthy may be the very survival of the venerable organization through 2002 and into the new year.

Profits were down through much of last year, including usually solid summer months, to the point that the gallery board dipped into an unrestricted fund to keep the operation afloat.

“July and August were terrible,” said Gail Temple, BAC board president. “We had months of craziness where we trimmed hours but the work load was the same. Several shows didn’t sell at all – we were able to support it for a while...but then we came to a point of near-collapse.”

In December, with retail sales from the main Winslow Way gallery, and a second space in Harold Square that brought in about $8,000, the gallery made budget for the first time in months.

“We’ve managed to meet budget in December and are in the black for January,” Temple said. “The main gallery did better than projected. The recent woodcraft exhibit sold well, as did the Joseph Lesser painting exhibit.”

But survival has come at a price.

The solo fine arts exhibits, for which the gallery was noted under Janice Shaw’s direction from the mid-1990s to 2001, are being replaced by integrated arts and crafts group shows. And the gallery, under new leadership, will take other steps to raise revenue.

“If it sells stuff, combining arts and crafts will probably continue,” said Susan Jackson, who was promoted from interim to acting executive director last week.

“The (regional media) list pages and pages of art non-profits dying on the vine.

“I don’t want to be part of that statistic – not on my watch.”

Hired as publicist last June, Jackson, who developed and ran visitor services for New York’s Museum of Modern Art for a decade and was director of Aspen Art Museum through the 1980s, was made interim executive director when Marian Holt McClain resigned last August. Jackson was hired on a permanent basis in January without a search.

“The board decided not to do a search because they had faith in what they had seen of Susan,” Temple said, “and because we are at a place where we don’t have the finances and the time to do a search that could take months.”

Jackson’s decisions will be largely driven by the need to keep the doors open, she says. The gallery will close Mondays through Memorial Day this year.

All staff are part-time. Jackson and assistant director for education David Sessions were joined two weeks ago by Victoria Josslin, who worked at BAC as publicist from 1998 to 2000 and will now serve as assistant director overseeing education programs and publicity. The three will curate shows together, Jackson says.

Exhibitions will stay up for six weeks instead of four, and nearly all will be group shows. The pieces exhibited will change through the course of a show, with artists bringing in “extra” work to replace what is sold.

“We’re doing a ‘cash-and-carry,’” Jackson said. “If someone buys a piece they can walk out with it.”

Jackson admits that the economy-driven retail approach the gallery is experimenting with is “uncharted territory” for her, and says it is unlikely to please everyone. She will focus more on fund-raising and seek business memberships and sponsorships for shows.

Direct arts education through bringing in fine arts-oriented shows was a BAC strength under Shaw. Now education must be bolstered in other ways.

“The philanthropic and educational mission is key to this non-profit,” Jackson said.

Educational programs will be considered in a meeting next week of board and staff. BAC will still give the $2,000 Kay Yockey scholarship to a graduating senior. The half-day dismissal workshops for students will likely continue, but grants to the schools for supplies have been suspended.

Jackson says pay raises for staff must also wait for better times.

And BAC must repay money borrowed from Toni Hall Cultural Fund left in a bequest to the gallery.

The fund

Volunteer Toni Hall left $75,000 to BAC in 1984 to build a cultural center on the island. Since Bainbridge Performing Arts was already building the Playhouse, the executor of the estate and then-BAC board president Judy Karr agreed in 1989 that the Toni Hall Cultural Fund would give $25,000 to the BPA building fund, with $5,000 of that a gift outright.

For the remaining $20,000, BAC received a credit to let community arts projects rent the Playhouse at market rates.

The $50,000 retained by BAC was treated as an unrestricted fund for small grants to the arts community at large. BAC established a Toni Hall Committee made up of representatives from BAC, BPA and the arts community to look at grant proposals.

The principal was invested in stocks and bonds. But the investment lost between $14,000 and $15,000 in the recent market treasurer two years ago. “But it’s easy to say that in hindsight. It looked great at first.”

The fund, still with American Marine Bank, has since been moved to a money market fund.

As financial screws turned ever tighter on BAC last spring and early summer, the gallery considered borrowing money from what was left of the principal of the Toni Hall fund.

“We took legal advice that the board of directors had the right to use the capital,” Temple said. “What the board decided was that they wanted to maintain it for the community, but they needed a ‘tide-over.’”

The board voted itself permission to borrow up to $25,000. According to BAC business manager Mae Fulmer, the board used the full amount to keep the gallery afloat through the fall. The money will be repaid at 5 percent interest.

Although BAC is in the black, the gallery must be stable for a while before a pay schedule can be set, Brookes says. He estimates it will take from 18 months to two years to replenish the fund. Until then, funding arts projects is on hold.

“Awards are not in the budget right now,” Brookes said. “You have to make sure this operation survives.

“If you don’t have fiscal restraint and put some black ink down, there isn’t going to be a Bainbridge Arts and Crafts.”

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In the beginning

The Jan. 8, 1948 edition of the Review carried a small news item under this heading:

Adults Invited to Arts, Crafts Formation Meeting

Persons interested in forming an Island arts and crafts organization for adults have been extended an invitation to meet at the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Hodges. Port Madison, at 8 o’clock Saturday evening, Mrs. Hodges said this week.

An effort has been made to invite individuals by telephone and mail, Mrs. Hodges added, but others, not so notified, are urged to attend the meeting if they will assist in any way.

Idea of the meeting is to form an adult group, or several groups, which will be interested in various activities, including painting and drawing, writing, dramatics, wood-carving, weaving, ceramics, and modeling, and allied subjects. Much of the activities would be on a creative basis, it is proposed, but instructors in many projects are available.

Mrs. Hodges also reported that central meeting places are available if the project is carried through...

By September 1948, the fledgling group, now officially Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, was offering a program of adult classes in “art, craft, woodworking and other subjects” in partnership with the public schools.

By the early1950s, BAC had a gallery space in an office building located where the ferry car holding lot is today. But by the closing years of that decade, the building had burned and BAC relocated to its current home on Winslow Way.

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