Glenwood Spings City Council denies funding for Arts Center restart

Efforts to reorganize the Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts will have to proceed without the financial support of the city, at least for now.

City Council at its Thursday night meeting rejected an impassioned plea from board members and longtime supporters of the Arts Center for $15,000 this year, and $70,000 a year going forward, to help rebuild the organization.

The money for this year would also have allowed the organization to resume some of its programming in the city-owned former electric utility building on Sixth Street, which has been home to the Arts Center under a long-standing partnership with the city.

But with a pending police investigation into the Arts Center’s finances that was launched in April amid concerns about financial mismanagement, City Council members said they were uncomfortable lending any financial assistance to bail out the organization until after that shakes out.

The investigation came on the heels of the resignation of Christina Brusig, who had been the longtime executive director for the Arts Center. Police have said the investigation is into the organization itself and not any individuals.

“We’re all torn by this, and there’s not one person up here who is against the arts,” Councilor Todd Leahy said. “Unfortunately, at this point in time, it’s no longer about the arts and programming, it’s about management, leadership and the use of public funds.”

Of the more than 30 nonprofit organizations that the city supports financially, the Arts Center is one of the biggest beneficiaries, to the tune of nearly $50,000 this year alone.

That’s partly because funding for the Arts Center and for the Glenwood Springs Historical Society, including the salaries for the executive directors of the organizations, comes specifically from the city’s special acquisitions and improvements tax. City voters elected to extend the tax last fall, and continued support for the two organizations was part of the ballot language.

Recently elected new City Councilor Jonathan Godes, who also directs the nonprofit Early Childhood Network, said that arrangement makes him a little uncomfortable.

“I have a general discomfort with playing favorites and picking winners and losers,” Godes said. “It just creates competition among nonprofits to try to show greater value to the community.”

In the meantime, the city has already taken over the Glenwood Summer of Music Series in Two Rivers Park that had been run by the Arts Center. It will also explore whether some of the art and dance programs could be offered through the city’s recreation department.

Initially, the Arts Center board announced after the investigation was launched that the organization was some $68,000 in debt and would have to close its doors.

An outpouring of support from the community caused the board to re-evaluate, and it has since been working on a restructuring plan.

That support continued last weekend with a benefit at the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue that drew more than 130 people and raised over $11,500.

“That speaks to how important the Center for the Arts is to the community,” supporter Sandy Haber said.

“We hope you see fit to be part of it, and not apart from it,” she pleaded before the council members.

The center has put together a plan that would involve more direct oversight of the executive director by the board, as well as more clearly defined responsibilities for the director and limited authority, explained Arts Center board member Anais Liston.

“We have begun to fix our issues, and we hope to grow and become more efficient,” Liston said.

But a proposed $335,600 annual budget for the revamped Arts Center would rely on $70,000 continuing to come from the city, she said.

Council members said they are not ruling out future support for the organization. But the request for funding for the remainder of this year and any commitments for future years is premature given the pending investigation, they said.

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