An end of an era

Lincoln Arts - Oct. 1986 to Feb. 2012
By: Carol Feineman News Messenger Editor
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Every February, Lincoln Arts staff is in final preparations for its signature fundraiser, the four-week Feats of Clay celebration that makes the downtown area a destination for residents and visitors alike. Unfortunately, that’s not the case this year, which would have been Feats of Clay’s 25th year at the historic Gladding, McBean facility. Instead of preparing for the annual clay competition, Lincoln Arts executive director Claudia Renati and board president June Reeves were disassembling the office Friday and sending a press release to its 145 members and others that the organization “closed its doors” as of Friday. The organization, founded in October 1986 “to support and promote the arts, culture and history in the greater Lincoln area,” is now dissolving, according to Renati and Reeves on Tuesday. “Deciding to close our doors has been an on-going discussion for three months with board members,” Renati said. “It’s because of a lack of funds.” Lincoln Arts’ five board members unanimously voted last Thursday night to close, according to Renati. “Board members made their statement last Thursday. Lincoln Arts has been retired,” Renati said. “Funds that are left will go to pay obligation to staff, bills and the rest will be donated to a 501(c) (3). We gave the Archives Museum on Saturday history books. The board has one last meeting in March after everything’s paid off.” Renati said she does not know how much funds are left until bills clear. “We are pretty much in shock and will be figuring things out,” she said. What is known by Renati and Reeves is that the organization was not raising the income it needed through its primary fundraiser, Feats of Clay; and through sponsorships and donations. “I look for money, calling companies everywhere. I used to raise $70,000 for Feats of Clay. I didn’t get that commitment this year,” Renati said. “I needed $5,000 to advertise in the Via travel magazine and I didn’t have it. I put (office manager) Michelle (Renati) to part time to save money. But there was no commitment, no callbacks. The money’s not there.” Reeves agreed with Renati. “When I came to Lincoln Arts a decade ago, Lincoln Arts had $35,000 in the bank. I figured I would have to make Feats of Clay work. Some years, I raised $100,000 and other years $70,000,” Renati said. “That went on until 2007, the good times. In 2008, we fell back and couldn’t raise enough money because of the economy. Builders left town (they were our big supporters) and we then had 130 charities going after the same money. We used our reserve funds, from the sale of Lincoln Arts’ house, approximately $251,000 (for operations). We got four more wonderful years for Feats of Clay.” Lincoln Arts experiences hard times last few years Lincoln Arts had financial difficulties the last few years, according to past News Messenger reports. In February 2010, Renati told The News Messenger that Lincoln Arts’ paid staff “may be laid off” after Feats of Clay ended in early May. The paid staff was Renati and her daughter, Michelle Renati, as office manager. Her husband, John, also was paid for driving the bus during Feats of Clay tours. “When putting the budget together, we realized in this economy, we had to look at making cuts,” Renati was quoted in the Feb. 4, 2010 News Messenger issue. And Paul Apfel, the organization’s president in 2010, was quoted in that article as saying the decision to run Lincoln Arts with volunteers was his and Renati’s plan. The decision to lay off staff was dependent on a vote by the Lincoln Arts board and how successful Feats of Clay that year would be, according to Renati and Apfel. But a month later, according to the March 4, 2010 News Messenger, the board voted that Lincoln Arts employees keep their jobs. And Apfel and two other board members, acting secretary Bobby Pilliard and Jim Boltz, resigned as of Feb. 23, 2010. These board members and Reeves, who took over as president, would not talk at the time about the resignations to the newspaper. “I think the board agreed that, to keep Lincoln Arts running, we need a paid staff because it’s a corporation,” Renati was quoted in the March 4, 2010 issue. “The board voted not to accept the budget presented at the last board meeting.” That budget was based on salary cuts. On July 2, 2010, 200 arts supporters signed a petition that asked the nonprofit Lincoln Arts to undergo independent and annual financial and management audits. Signers included current members, former members and other community members, “from a grassroots group who had concerns” about the organization, according to Lincoln resident Terry Dorsey in the July 29, 2010 News Messenger. Requested audits were for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. Concerns focused on why two boards resigned within a four-year period and discrepancies on attendance and proceeds from Lincoln Arts’ main fundraiser, Feats of Clay. Signing the petition was Pilliard, who in July 2010 told The News Messenger that her resignation letter said, “It appears that at the present time and at the present rate of cash burn, (Lincoln Arts and Cultural Foundation) is in a downward spiral toward insolvency. This is particularly disturbing because LACF’s reserve money was derived from the sale of its former gallery location and headquarters …” On Tuesday, Reeves said those audits were not done. “Our books are open. Stephanie (Dumm, News Messenger reporter) was at that meeting in 2010 when we said we couldn’t afford a $10,000 audit but that we would make our books open as much as possible.” The Lincoln Arts CPA, Maggie Smith said the books were open and transparent at that meeting, according to Renati. How did Lincoln Arts reach its decision? “One of the questions is going to be why we didn’t hand over Feats of Clay to another organization,” Renati said. “The board decided we wanted to retire it with integrity. We thought it all out, crying over it many hours. A potters’ guild could work with Gladding, McBean, if they’re willing.” Feats of Clay “takes thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours and lots of coordination between artists and volunteers,” according to Reeves. Feats of Clay brought in between 3,500 and 5,000 visitors each year, according to Renati, and restaurants “tripled their business” every May. “On many of the buses (that took Feats of Clay visitors from Lincoln Arts to Gladding, McBean), 20 hands would go up when the driver asked how many were from out of town,” Reeves said. Besides Feats of Clay, Lincoln Arts’ gallery shows and summer concerts brought visitors downtown. “I have to admit my frustration with the city’s merchant association when I tried to be positive,” Reeves said. “Then I get a map of restaurants for events to use. Feats of Clay was not even mentioned but that’s the event that people ate at. That was one of the final straws a month ago.” And Renati said that Lincoln Community Foundation told her Lincoln Arts was too large an organization to receive grant funds awarded last month. Thunder Valley Casino also didn’t give Lincoln Arts financial support this year, even though she made a few requests since October, according to Renati. Doug Elmets, the casino’s spokesman, took exception to Renati’s statement. “Claudia Renati and I have never had a single conversation regarding any sponsorship for Feats of Clay or any other event this year. Had she contacted us as she did every year, Thunder Valley Casino would have contributed what they do every year they’re asked, which is $5,000 for Feats of Clay for five years,” Elmets said. “Regardless of what contribution Thunder Valley was willing to contribute, it’s clear that the organization is in horrible disarray, which is reflected in the fact that key benefactors were completely in the dark when they decided to shut their doors. One can only hope that a new organization with cohesive leadership will spring from the ruins to create an organization that can contribute to promote the arts in South Placer.” Mixed emotions greet closure Lincoln Arts representatives gave books and Feats of Clay materials this week to the Archives Museum. “It’s really sad that they’re not going to be here. It’s especially sad for the people who want to participate in Feats of Clay and all the people giving tours,” said Archives Museum volunteer Kathy Freeman. Freeman appreciates the donated items. “It feels really good to have these things so meaningful to Lincoln,” Freeman said, “Jerry Logan’s history books, Feats of Clay memorabilia, still stay here.” Attorney Therese Adams was listed on Lincoln Arts’ press release Friday as a contact for anyone with questions about the organization’s closure. When contacted Friday by The News Messenger, though, Adams said she was not Lincoln Arts’ spokeswoman. “I was deeply saddened by the announcement of the board of directors of Lincoln Arts and Cultural Foundation that they had voted to dissolve the organization. From time to time, over the past decade, I provided pro bono legal advice to the organization,” Adams said. “Most importantly, Adams & Hayes Law financially supported Lincoln Arts because of its longstanding and unique cultural contributions to our community. The end of the annual Feats of Clay event and tours of the Gladding McBean factory are a loss to the city and the residents of Lincoln and Placer County.” Feats of Clay “put Lincoln on the map, according to Renati. “I want everyone to realize how much Lincoln Arts brought to the community for 25 years. We had Feats of Clay, we had summer concerts, arts and crafts festival, classes for kids, art projects in the gallery for adults, Clay Fest, Teams of Clay, the art auctions, fantastic gallery shows every six weeks.” What does the end of Lincoln Arts mean to the city? “Lincoln Arts has been a key part of our community. I was shocked and dismayed that we only heard of it as they closed their doors,” said Mayor Spencer Short on Tuesday. “We received notice at 1 o’clock Friday. It’s disappointing that the board failed to reach out to the community for support or at least let others know of the status before they decided to unilaterally close its doors. I’m hopeful that someone will pick up where Lincoln Arts left off with their legacy of great events.” Lincoln Arts is in a city-owned building at 580 Sixth St., across from City Hall. “The city doesn’t have any immediate plans for the building,” Short said. “We’ll wait and see what the outcome of this whole process is.” Also affected by Lincoln Arts’ closure is Gladding, McBean, which every May for 24 years, allowed the organization to host a four-week art exhibit/fundraiser on the building’s first and second floors. This was the only time of the year in which the public was allowed into the building, often when Gladding, McBean employees were creating their products. Erik Absalon, Gladding, McBean’s vice president of the clay division, did not expect Lincoln Art’s closure. “We were shocked,” Absalon said. He hopes Feats of Clay “can be resurrected.” “We’re very supportive of this whole Feats of Clay deal. We like people to see what’s here,” Absalon said. “Gladding, McBean has been here for 136 years, since 1875. We’re supportive of the town and know how much this brings to town. This was a give-back to the community.”