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Get involved in the local arts scene

By: Carol Feineman - Editor News Messenger
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The arts are not dead in Lincoln. That’s despite Lincoln Arts shutting down after a 25-year presence here. Some residents were unhappy over the sudden announcement on Feb. 3 by Lincoln Arts that it is dissolving (see Feb. 9 News Messenger front page, “An end of an era. Lincoln Arts – Oct. 1986 to Feb. 2012”). But this news that upset some residents actually leads the way for an arts revitalization. The Lincoln Arts board dissolving the organization that embraced all genres has, in doing so, created a catalyst for other community members to create a more relevant and active organization. Lincoln Arts was founded in October 1986 with the purpose “to support and promote arts and culture in the Lincoln area.” That purpose was significantly carried out by the annual Feats of Clay four-week celebration. The celebration, for 24 years, included a four-week juried clay art competition in the downtown 136-year-old Gladding, McBean terra-cotta factory along with factory tours; a ClayFest one-day street festival and a Teams of Clay competition among area businesses. Lincoln Arts also had a big presence with ongoing gallery exhibits featuring high school students up to professional artists, summer concerts and art classes. While Lincoln Arts has enriched the community during the last 25 years, the organization stalled four or five years ago, according to long-time residents I spoke with this week. In recent years, the organization suffered from lack of funds, mistrust by some community members and disagreements between several board members and executive director Claudia Renati. A July 2010 petition with 200 signatures by members, former members and residents asked for independent and annual financial and management audits, starting for fiscal years 2009 and 2010. And I’ve received calls from artists and Lincoln Arts members asking who the organization’s attorney is, since Renati and President June Reeves said last week that the Feats of Clay name is trademarked and can’t be used for 10 years. Renati mentioned a week ago that “the wagons are circling” the Lincoln Arts building. But what’s the big deal? Feats of Clay is just a name. There’s nothing to stop a new arts organization from putting on the festival next year and calling it something else. And while it’s good to note what went wrong, it’s also good to remember the joy that Lincoln Arts brought to residents for more than two decades. Now it’s time to get creative about putting life back into the arts here instead of focusing on semantics and the blame game. Former Lincoln Arts member and Gladding, McBean sculptor Jean Cross mentioned last Thursday that community members want to bring back Feats of Clay and an arts group. But she didn’t want to comment until the grassroots group meets next week. Lincoln Mayor Spencer Short also wants an arts group here. “Many people are concerned this closure will leave a void in the community,” Short said. “But there are too many people in this community who want to see the arts continue and who want to promote this sort of activity. I believe however the organization is re-formed, there will be an organization devoted to the arts in Lincoln.” Short asks anyone interested in “jump starting such an effort” to call him at 434-2490 or e-mail him at spencer@ spencershort.com. “We’re looking for people who have an interest in the arts, folks with business background or people who are just interested in the arts and the Lincoln community,” Short said. “We want a cross-section of the community with all ages invited.” Community members should call this week. Short wants to hold an organizational meeting within two weeks – before the end of February. “Lincoln Arts is a community organization. At this point, it’s not about ownership because ownership belongs to the people of Lincoln,” Short said. “We should be concerned with a continuation of great things Lincoln Arts has done. It is my sincere hope that someone can pick up where Lincoln Arts dropped off and bring back Feats of Clay. It appears there was money still available from donors like Thunder Valley to continue Lincoln Arts.” Plus Erik Absalon, Gladding, McBean’s vice president of the clay division, said last week that his company would like to host Feats of Clay again. I am sure that many capable residents will meet with the Lincoln mayor and form a new group. “We hope to organize an organization devoted to tying together arts, sense of community and appreciation for the art history of the greater Lincoln community,” Short added. “Lincoln needs that to promote its sense of place. It’s similar to Lincoln Archives, which connects to our sense of history, and to the Lincoln chamber, which promotes our business community. An arts organization in Lincoln should be a gathering place and a rallying point for the community.”