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Lincoln Arts needs community’s help for Feats of Clay

By: Carol Feineman, editor
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Know and Go: What: Annual Feats of Clay juried art show and events When: April 16 through May 30 Where: Gladding, McBean Factory on G and 7th streets. ClayFest and Teams of Clay at Beermann Plaza Information: 645-9713 or online at lincolnarts.org My favorite Lincoln event kicks off April 16. That’s the 23rd annual Feats of Clay, which runs through May and promotes both Lincoln and the visual arts. Feats of Clay, a juried North America ceramics show is held at Gladding, McBean Factory on G and Seventh streets for almost seven weeks. Factory tours run through May 30. Sponsored by the nonprofit Lincoln Arts organization, Feats of Clay offers the only public tours of the historic factory, which has operated nonstop since May 12, 1875 in Lincoln.  The factory produces architectural terra-cotta facades and garden sculptures installed in schools, civic buildings and hotels around the world, including Stanford University.  Feats of Clay, Lincoln Art’s signature event, is also its top fundraiser of the year. And now, more than ever, Feats of Clay needs the help of community members. In late February, the nonprofit organization lost three of its board members and replaced them with only two members. Lincoln Arts staff, in a March 2 flier asking for donors and pledges, said that Feats of Clay “drew over 6,000 visitors” last year. Cathie and Bill Szabo, however, said last week that number is inflated and is 3,997, according to their check-in sheets last year. The couple served as Feats of Clay volunteer coordinators for 2008 and 2009. “Even allowing for a slight plus/minus percentage in reporting and also counting the people at the reception, no way were there 6,000 people attending Feats in 2009,” Cathie Szabo said. When told that by The News Messenger about the Szabos’ calculation, Lincoln Arts Executive Director Claudia Renati said that Lincoln Arts “counts reservations while the Szabos counted just the person checking into the tour.” Renati then clarified the number to be at least 5,000 attending the tours and reception. Whatever the actual number is of Feats of Clay attendance, Lincoln Arts needs as many visitors as possible this year. “Money from Feats of Clay keeps Lincoln Arts open,” Renati said. Lincoln Arts gets its income “almost entirely through the contributions of its members, community donations and event programs,” according to Renati. The annual fundraiser’s net profit in 2009 was $63,000, Renati said. That’s considerably down from the past few years. Feats of Clay’s net income was $94,564 in 2006, $80,769 in 2007 and $78,300 in 2008, Renati said. “It’s going down due to lack of sponsorship,” Renati said. “In 2005, I raised $100,000. In 2006, it was $87,000. In 2008, it was $78,000. In 2009, it was only $39,000. This year, it will even be worse.” Renati said that Lincoln Arts only brought in $60,000 at last year’s Feats of Clay due to “a lot of corporate sponsors backing down and losing money on the reception.” So far, this year’s sponsorships are at $30,000, according to Renati. So she’s looking for more sponsors. Lincoln Arts needs a money-making Feats of Clay this year. In the Feb. 4 News Messenger, Renati said that she and her daughter, the office manager, might lose their jobs after Feats of Clay is over, depending on how well Feats of Clay does this year. “When putting the budget together, we realized in this economy, we had to look at making cuts,” Renati said in the Feb. 4 News Messenger. “The largest expense is payroll.” Her salary, as listed in the Internal Revenue Service’s Form 990’s EZ Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax document, was $45,825 for the year 2008. Total salaries, other compensation and employee benefits, according to the 2008 document, equaled $93,574.  The other full-time employee is Renati’s daughter, Michelle Renati, the office manager. Based on gross receipts of $450,299, according to the 990 form, that would make Lincoln Arts salaries at more than 20 percent of the budget. Feats of Clay is a great event for Lincoln residents to enjoy. Eighty juried ceramic art pieces, both traditional and whimsical, are on display inside Gladding, McBean.  And it’s also educational as Gladding, McBean employees can be seen, during Feats of Clay tours, creating terra-cotta art with the same techniques used in the 1800s. It’s a unique part of Lincoln’s history, having an inside look of Gladding, McBean. Hopefully, community members will support Feats of Clay. Not only will they have fun at the event but they’ll help Lincoln Arts as it tries to earn its main income for the year. Carol Feineman can be reached at carolf@goldcountrymedia.com