Art center owes $68K, has $5K; city cuts off money

Ryan Summerlin

Glenwood Springs city government said Friday it is halting financial support for the Glenwood Springs art center following news that the nonprofit expects to close in May amid financial turmoil and a police investigation.

“While our hearts go out to the families who rely on the center’s programming and the employees of the center, the city believes it is imprudent to risk additional taxpayer funds by subsidizing the organization’s operations during an ongoing police investigation,” Assistant City Manager Jenn Ooton wrote in a news release.

Details about that investigation are sparse because it is active, but the Glenwood Springs Arts Council board announced Thursday that it cannot pay vendors and teachers, and likely will close after its “Dancers Dancing” production May 12-13.

Later Friday, the arts council’s acting president, Kate McRaith, said in an email that the council has about $68,000 in obligations in accounts payable and payroll, but has only $5,000 on hand, with some payments due in early May.

As stunned supporters scrambled to raise money after Thursday’s announcement, the board estimated that it needs about $75,000 to keep the center open and continue its programs, McRaith’s email said.

Early this month, the art center’s executive director of three years, Christina Brusig, resigned, telling the Post Independent she was working too much and lacked adequate support from the board. She expressed shock about the police investigation, which began days after she resigned.

When the PI learned of the investigation, the board said center programming would continue, but shifted course Thursday, saying in a statement from attorney Charlie Willman that “without further financial support from either the city of Glenwood Springs or from significant donations, [the council] cannot meet its expenses, including current liabilities to vendors and its instructors.”

Asked how the council found itself in this situation, McRaith responded: “This information cannot be released due to the limits on releasing personnel information … and at the request of the city due to the pending investigation.” Police Chief Terry Wilson told the PI earlier that he expects the investigation to take weeks to complete.

Each year the city hands over about $50,000 from acquisitions and improvements tax money to the council. The city also funds a public art program, which the art center administers.

“To date in 2017, (the city’s) funding has amounted to $18,861 in salary, $20,000 in direct payments and an additional $10,000 in public art funding,” according to Ooton’s statement.

The city was tipped off to the “lack of financial oversight” in 2015 and passed those concerns back to the art center board, Ooton said.

But according to former board members, the board was alerted to these issues before the city.

Former board vice president Karin Cooper-Phelps told the PI that she and another former board member had reported a litany of issues, financial and otherwise, first to the board, then to the city in 2015.

Ooton’s statement said, “The (art center) board has complete oversight in the management of the Glenwood Springs Arts Council organization, including its finances and director. The city did not have any supervisory responsibilities over the Center for the Arts or its director.”

The statement said the city is committed to keeping some of the center’s biggest programs alive.

“If the Arts Council is unable to recover, the city of Glenwood Springs is willing to add arts and dance programming to its offerings through the Parks and Recreation Department and to manage the Summer of Music series as a City event,” Ooton said.

“The bands have been booked and deposits paid to the bands,” according to the art center board.

Supporters and patrons of the center were reeling. Parents and students received notice of the center’s impending closure Thursday; teachers were also informed that day in a meeting.

“I believe in community and I believe in community art,” Terry Muldoon, who has taught at the center for 10 years, said in an interview. “Even if the Center for the Arts dies as it exists right now, it will be recreated in the community.”

During a Friday morning class, an elementary-school student told Muldoon her family held a meeting the night before. The child called her grandmother and asked if the family could forgo its vacation this year. “Can we send the money to my arts center?” Muldoon recounted, with tears in her eyes.

Muldoon is one of 22 teacher contractors, and she works 30 hours a week at the center. Most teachers work five or six hours weekly, she said. Brie Carmer, the assistant director, is the only full-time employee.

Cooper-Phelps has reported past payroll issues at the art center, which Muldoon corroborated. The majority of paychecks bounced the day Brusig resigned, Muldoon said.

Teachers have volunteered to finish the semester, despite knowing that they won’t be paid.

About 14 students had already registered for summer classes through the art center, and right now there is no money to refund those payments.

In-house programs will end May 15. RE-2’s Fine Art Friday will continue through May 26 and Two Rivers Community School’s after-school program will end May 17.

“We’re just not willing to shut the door,” Muldoon said.

“An arts center comes from within. It’s not a space,” Muldoon said. “We can dance out on sidewalks. We can paint in hallways.”

On Facebook, Sarah Gordon posted that she was part of the first “Dancers Dancing” and that she grew up dancing at the art center. “Arts education makes better scientists, better buinesspeople and better members of society. I am signing up right now to do everything I can to help save this vital organization. Who will join me?”

Features editor Carla Jean Whitley contributed to this story.

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