Art League of Lincoln needs a home, community support

By: Carol Feineman, Editor Lincoln News Messenger
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The new Art League of Lincoln deserves the community’s thanks and now support.

The nonprofit organization is working hard to bring art and culture to the community. But it hasn’t been easy.

The art league started forming last March, a month after the nonprofit Lincoln Arts unexpectedly shut down last Feb. 3.

Today, about 300 Arts League of Lincoln members are trying to establish a permanent base in Lincoln to provide art opportunities and education to residents of all ages.

Their efforts could greatly benefit Lincoln as art brings culture, excitement and relevance to a city.

But it has been a hard infancy for the art league. The organization has endured two big stumbling blocks the last few months, the first, no office space and the second, the loss of its inaugural America’s Clayfest venue.

In reference to the second stumbling block, losing access to the Gladding, McBean facility for the clayfest happened a week ago Monday.

Since early summer, art league officers have been talking to Gladding, McBean officials about bringing back the former Lincoln Arts’ annual Feats of Clay, renamed America’s Clayfest. This four-week event included factory tours and a juried ceramics art show at Gladding, McBean.

Feats of Clay was Lincoln’s signature art event and attracted a few thousand art lovers and history fans who wanted to see a factory from the 1800s still in operations today.

Lincoln Arts closed, two months before the 25th annual Feats of Clay would have been held.

The Art League of Lincoln received the OK, according to art league President Paul Apfel, in early summer with Gladding, McBean’s plant manager Jerry Stacy to hold the event there.

By Tuesday, the organization had received a total of 200 pieces from 88 artists. Fliers were posted throughout town and America’s Clayfest gala reception tickets were already sold.

America’s Clayfest plans drastically changed when Gladding, McBean’s Stacy told the Art League last week that the public was no longer allowed in the factory because of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) concerns.

Stacy told the art league that Gladding, McBean would contribute financially to the gala and art show.

But that offer comes at a time when the art league has only two months to create another major fundraiser.

“We’re still shooting for an April 20th reception but it will be scaled down. It’s causing us to redesign the event at the last minute,” Apfel said. “We’ve been planning this since early summer. Most of those plans have to be reconsidered.”

The art league has “just slightly over $19,000 in its account to handle 2013 expenses, according to Apfel. Most of that income is from memberships. Art league members hoped to increase revenue through the America’s Clayfest artist entry fees, tours and sponsor donations.

The other hardship for the arts league is that the city of Lincoln has not yet provided space for the group to meet daily, although the two entities seemed to reach an agreement last Aug. 28. The agreement was for the city-owned building at 580 Sixth St., the site of the defunct Lincoln Arts.

City Council agreed to lease  the Sixth Street property to the art league on a month-to-month basis for $1 a year plus utilities while the property was to be “marketed passively” to find a market-rate tenant, according to a News Messenger front-page story Aug. 30.

But Apfel said his organization never received a contract for that building. Instead, Apfel said, the city told his group that they had two offers to purchase the building.

However, selling the building for under $500,000 isn’t a smart financial decision as it will not impact the city’s revenue. Nor will leasing the building make a dent in the city’s budget.

The art league being there, however, could bring plenty of visitors to downtown Lincoln through ongoing shows and art events. Visitors would most likely visit local restaurants, gas stations and stores.

“It’s hard to function as a real entity without having a physical space. We’ve been a cyber organization for a year,” said art league executive director Jean Cross. “Our goal is to have something to bring people in every day, whether it’s a class, art show or a PowerPoint presentation on Gladding, McBean. We need a home because we have a lot to contribute to the community of Lincoln.”

The former Lincoln Arts received aid from the city of Lincoln in the form of free rent for about 10 years at the Sixth Street building.

It’s time that Lincoln City Council gives the new Art League of Lincoln a big break.

“Why not put them there (at 580 Sixth Street)? That’s a great idea,” said City Councilman Spencer Short. “I would support putting them there. Unfortunately, the council is considering other options - sale or rental for market rate.”

A permanent home “would bring in some arts tourism to the community and bring people back to the center of the community,” Short added.

City Council needs to immediately support the Art League of Lincoln with suitable housing. 

Councilman Paul Joiner said he will talk about possible locations with Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep today and place it on the City Council agenda for this Tuesday’s or the Feb. 26 meeting.

“We need to take action on it sooner than later, with the ceramic show coming up,” Joiner said. “The Art League of Lincoln has immediate needs for the reception of the artwork show and a location to hold it. That’s an immediate need. There’s a long-term need for a permanent home.”

Gladding, McBean’s decision to ban the public can’t be changed.

City Council, though, can find a home for the art league next week.

The art league deserves that council effort.