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Kadner: Effort launched to save Beverly Arts Center

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel flanked by community leaders students announced Thursday Sept. 26 2013 thcity is donating $250000 an effort

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, flanked by community leaders and students, announced Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, that the city is donating $250,000 in an effort to save the Beverly Arts Center, 111th Street and Western Avenue, from financial crisis that threatens to close its doors. | Phil Kadner~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 28, 2013 7:34AM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched a campaign to save the Beverly Arts Center on Thursday by announcing a $250,000 donation from the city of Chicago.

The money, however, is from privately raised funds left over from the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago and comes on the heels of a decision by an arbitrator that the city owes Chicago police officers $1 million in overtime for the summit.

None of that seemed to matter to the hundreds of Beverly residents, politicians and civic leaders in attendance at Thursday’s news conference in Beverly.

Emanuel and 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea announced plans for a Beverly Arts Center Challenge, a campaign to raise $500,000 from community residents to save the cultural center.

The center’s financial problems apparently stem from a 2002 building campaign that was projected to cost $7 million initially, but cost $12 million.

Fifth Third Bank, which holds the loan on the property, was about to foreclose when Emanuel intervened and the bank offered to reduce the arts center’s debt by $2 million if citizens, businesses and philanthropic donors raised $500,000 in one year.

The $250,000 from the NATO legacy apparently will be used to help pay off a separate portion of the debt, amounting to $1.7 million, which the art center has the ability to pay off without additional help.

Joan and Bill Baffes and their family, owners of County Fair Foods, 108th Street and Western Avenue, stepped forward to kick off the local fundraising drive by donating $125,000.

“We have a wonderful community,” Baffes told me when I asked the reason for his generosity.

“They give to us and we wanted to give back.”

The family has been in business at the same location for 50 years.

Lori and Ed McGunn, another Beverly family, contributed $25,000.

Lori told me her husband’s family once owned Corporate Safe Specialists in Posen and that he has lived in the community since 1968.

Emanuel, talking about the importance of the arts, mentioned how he trained in dance as a youth and won a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet.

“You can laugh now,” Emanuel said, “but when I was 16 years old and taking dance lessons it wasn’t very funny.

“What has it taught you?” Emanuel said, posing the question to himself. “Well, as a politician, you sometimes have to be very fast on your feet.”

Emanuel turned more serious talking about the need to keep the doors of the arts center open, not just for the sake of the building itself, but for the community.

“There’s nothing like culture to bring a community together,” he said.

The 40,000-square-foot Beverly Arts Center, at 111th Street and Western Avenue, serves about 27,000 people each year, offering classes for all ages in visual, film and performing arts, concerts and theater performance. It has gallery exhibits and competitions and special events.

The building includes a 400-seat main stage theater, art galleries, and dedicated classrooms offering dance and ceramics studies.

A story in another newspaper recently implied that local politicians over the years had used their clout to bring state funding to the arts center.

While clout can be used for personal gain and nepotism, I am hard pressed to find fault with political leaders who use clout to fund an institution that brings culture and joy to a community.

If elected officials didn’t use their position to support things such as the Beverly Arts Center, they would be failing their constituents.

O’Shea made it clear during his remarks to the crowd that he was going to lead the fundraising effort to save the Beverly Arts Center.

“Arts and culture aren’t a luxury,” he said. “They are essential to our very way of life.”

“We faced a catastrophe here,” the alderman said. “No doubt about it.”

He credited Emanuel with stepping up to save the arts center and Fifth Third Bank for its willingness to forgive some of the debt.

The Beverly Arts Center claims its outreach programs have served 2,916 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12 with visual and performing arts programs. Of the 56 organizations served by the center’s outreach programs, 37 are Chicago Public Schools, eight are private schools and 11 are facilities that provide after-school programs, such as libraries.

The people I know who live in Beverly are very proud of the arts center.

The fact that it has financial problems really should shock no one.

The people who run such facilities often tend to be strong on culture and short on financial knowledge.

It seems to me the center could have done a better job of expanding its reach, to the south suburbs, but I don’t think that’s a significant factor in its financial situation.

A lot of folks in recent years have taken out loans to build homes they couldn’t afford. That’s what happened here.

The arts center, among other things, staged 52 live concerts last year, ranging from Chicago blues to classic rock, and 14,700 people attended the shows.

It ran 50 dance classes, serving 1,100 students, 70 fitness classes for 750 students; 100 music classes for 600 students; 30 theater classes for 250 students; 130 visual art classes for 1,080 students and 50 different art camps serving 600 children.

The financial revitalization plan is an opportunity to bring new life and increase interest in the arts center among those who may have taken it for granted.

There’s a lot more support, and interest, in sports than there is for the arts these days. I’m not sure that’s a good thing for our society.

If everyone in Beverly contributed $20, someone connected to the arts center told me, its financial problems would be solved.

If you would like to help, you can visit the home page of the center at www.beverlyartcenter.org and go to the donation page, or mail a check to the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., Chicago, IL 60655.



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