Art league needs to consider Lincoln residents

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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The 1-year-old Art League of Lincoln needs to change the way it does business.

If it doesn’t, the nonprofit arts organization formed to take the place of the closed Lincoln Arts will lose its integrity, and consequently, support of Lincoln residents.

The Art League of Lincoln needs the backing of Lincoln residents and community leaders if the organization is going to not only survive but prosper.

I was initially excited about the Art League of Lincoln. More than 300 members, according to President Paul Apfel in early February, wanted “to establish a permanent base in Lincoln to provide art opportunities and education to Lincoln residents of all ages.”

And I also felt sorry for the Art League in early February because the then 11-month-old organization didn’t have an office and had just lost its inaugural America’s Clayfest Ceramic Art Exhibit space inside the Gladding, McBean factory.

The America’s ClayFest is the league’s version of the Lincoln Arts’ Feats of Clay four-week event that, for 24 years, brought thousands of visitors downtown to see a historical factory and a juried ceramics art show. In late January, Gladding, McBean officials told the art league that the public was no longer allowed inside the factory because of Americans with Disabilities Act concerns.

In my Feb. 7 column, I asked the community to support the new arts group and for City Council to provide a home for the league.

The council offered the art league an extremely fair deal on Feb. 14 to occupy 580 Sixth St., the former site of Lincoln Arts a block away from Gladding, McBean, from March 1 to June 30, and then month-to-month after that. The cost to the league: utilities and $1 for rent. That way, the city would have provided the league with a physical place to conduct day-to-day operations and to hold community events.

It’s all about good faith.

On Feb. 19, the art league’s executive director Jean Cross sent a letter to City Council, asking to instead occupy the larger second floor space of the old City Hall off of Beermann Plaza. (The Lincoln Area Archives Museum is on the first floor.)

“If this venue can’t be made available to us for the 4 months, our only other option is to consider holding the event at a location outside of Lincoln,” Cross wrote. “It will defeat all that we hoped to do for Lincoln: increase tourism, bring business to the downtown area and extra revenue to the city of Lincoln, but we will have no other choice. The decision is yours. We need a decision by Tuesday night, February 26 and a lease or rental agreement by February 28 as we need to confirm another option outside of Lincoln by March 1.”

Lincoln City Council held to its original offer to give the league free rent at the Sixth Street venue.

And the art league chose to hold the upcoming ceramic art show at the Blue Line Arts Gallery in downtown Roseville.

The art league needs to remember that it serves the Lincoln community, not the Roseville community. That means making choices that benefit the greatest number of Lincoln residents.

Having a ceramics show in Lincoln is the right way to go. Holding that show in Roseville is disrespectful to Lincoln residents, who shouldn’t have to drive to another city for a Lincoln show.

Plus part of the benefits of the annual ceramics show is to bring visitors to downtown Lincoln, which creates a reciprocal effect on visitors spending their money at Lincoln gas stations, restaurants and stores.

For the Art League of Lincoln to become a respected nonprofit organization here, its members should rethink their actions in taking the show elsewhere.

Vic Freeman, an active community member, mentioned at last week’s City Council meeting that the ceramics show should return to Lincoln next year.

“We just have to do everything we can to bring the league’s show back to Lincoln,” Freeman said during the meeting’s public comment portion. “It’s very important to expand the tradition we’ve had for many, many years.”

Councilman Gabriel Hydrick’s response to Freeman lacked clarity.

“The Art League of Lincoln has faced some spectacular challenges and obstacles and they have responded incredibly well...,” Hydrick responded. “In all our conversations and meetings, I haven’t heard the real issue mentioned why the Art League of Lincoln has moved to another city. The Feats of Clay is one of the largest revenue generators of its kind for our tiny community. We shot ourselves in the foot. We don’t have the Feats of Clay because there are improvements that need to be made and are mandated and difficult to do... It doesn’t help when we chase one of the biggest revenue generators out of town. I suggest we work cooperatively.”

In all due respect, the councilman got it half right.

The art league needs to cooperate with the Lincoln community.

But Lincoln city officials, including the council of which Hydrick is a part of, tried to keep the art league’s show in Lincoln.

The art league, though, acted like a spoiled kid, threatening to take their business elsewhere.

That move only hurts their credibility at a time the group should be proving itself.