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Friday, March 19, 2010

Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center To Shut Down

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Fri, Mar 19, 2010 at 2:08 PM

This disturbing news just in from one of the city's most prominent multicultural arts organizations, the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (IFCC): as of May 1st, the 28-year-old center devoted to promoting diverse artists will shut its doors.

Portland Parks sent out an email explaining that the IFCC board made the difficult decision faced with declining donations and grants. Ticket sales, earned income and class fees make up only 20 percent of the arts organization's budget.

Interstates historic firehouse
  • Interstate's historic firehouse


Despite generally good attendance at its exhibitions and performances, IFCC, Inc. is still faced with a significant budget shortfall, one that has forced the operating board to make the decision that the program needs to close indefinitely while the board regroups and determines a transition plan.

A letter from the IFCC's board chair Bill Hart pins some of the blame for the group's funding decline on a loss of leadership:

IFCC, Inc. has had to struggle without the guidance of a Managing Director for about a year. A leadership loss at that level is extremely pivotal to the financial management of an organization, especially a non-profit, arts organization. The real loss to the institution was the halt to our grant writing and fund raising activities and the Board's lack of overall financial oversight of IFCC, Inc. during that time.
With limited Board oversight for months, Bill Hart was recruited to the Board as president in October 2009. An initial review of IFCC, Inc.'s financials revealed a "troubled state" with limited future revenue-generating potential.

Last year in March the IFCC sent out the red alert that it would likely shut down, but managed to fight for its budget in the city and won back its budget. After years of fighting for funding, maybe they just decided enough was enough.

Update 2:25pm: I just talked to Bill Hart, who seemed pretty resolved that this is the end. No last-chance fundraisers. No more haggling with the city. "We are going to be letting go of staff and the board is in transition," says Hart. "We just can’t operate on this system." Hart says the board has been discussing the possibility of shutting down since he took over in October. Asked whether the IFCC would consider overhauling its structure to be a sustainable nonprofit, Hart said the board had discussed several ideas but "nothing seemed to be promising."

Artists currently using the firehouse will be able to stay in their space until July. Hart would not disclose the size of the IFCC's budget gap. The IFFC received $72,000 last year from the Parks Dept for its work. The city additionally invested $74,000 to upgrade the historic firehouse.

H/T to former Oregonian arts critic Barry Johnson—his thoughts on the closure added below the cut.

Here's Johnson's take on the IFCC shutting down:

Arts critic Barry Johnson
  • Arts critic Barry Johnson

IFCC is a very difficult proposition. It's a space, not a performing group, which makes fundraising harder, and since Parks & Recreation spun it off many years ago, it has struggled along from crisis to crisis, primarily because it doesn't have enough money to pay for a full complement of staffers (especially a development person). It doesn't generate enough earned income (less than 20 percent of its $225k, per creative director Adrienne Flagg) to make up for the lack of fund raising, and if it raises its rental rates, it stops serving the people it's intended to help. This year, according to Flagg, several groups couldn't raise even enough to pay IFCC's low rental rates and had to cancel performances.

I'm hopeful that Parks & Recreation will re-think its role at IFCC (at one time, the department paid staff salaries, for example, as I remember it) and continue to provide the service that IFCC provides now — to the smallest, most fragile, most under-served communities and arts groups in the city, communities that meet each other and talk about what's important to them primarily through IFCC. Losing this service altogether will make arts in Portland yet more exclusive at a time when everyone thinks it needs to go the other way.

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