Kadner: Beverly community on way to saving arts center
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org December 2, 2013 10:36PM
In less than two months, community residents have raised nearly half of the $500,000 targeted to keep the Beverly Arts Center out of foreclosure. | File photo
Updated: January 4, 2014 6:14AM
In less than two months, community residents have raised nearly half of the $500,000 targeted to keep the Beverly Arts Center out of foreclosure.
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) said more than $150,000 has been donated through small contributions from local residents and a $125,000 check is expected Wednesday from Joan and Bill Baffes, owners of County Fair Foods, who originally made the pledge in October.
The Beverly Arts Center Challenge, as the fundraising drive has been dubbed, is an effort to relieve about $4.5 million in debt owed Fifth Third Bank as the result of a building campaign that got out of control.
The fundraising campaign has been so successful that Mike Stanton, vice president of wealth management with BMO Harris Bank and co-chairman of the BAC Challenge Committee, said civic leaders are now focused on entirely eliminating the arts center’s debt by the end of next year.
The effort was launched in October when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appeared at the center, 111th Street and Western Avenue, to announce that the city was donating $250,000 from money left over from the NATO Summit in 2012 to offset some of the center’s debt.
O’Shea told me Monday that a number of fundraising events involving local businesses have been organized.
“Every Tuesday in December we will have ‘Eat & Earn’ campaigns at various local restaurants,” O’Shea said.
The first such event is Tuesday at the KFC, 10421 Western Ave., which will donate 15 percent of all sales Tuesday when customers mention “BAC Challenge.”
The Kean gas station, 2362 W. 111th St., will be donating 5 cents of every gallon of gas sold during December to the Challenge.
And on Dec. 10, Home Run Inn Pizza, 10900 Western Ave., will donate 20 percent of sales to customers who mention the BAC Challenge.
On Wednesday night, O’Shea told me, hundreds of residents have been invited to attend a special reception for the kickoff of the BAC Challenge, where the Baffes family will present its $125,000 check, and those in attendance will be asked to make donations or solicit contributions from others in the future.
New arts center board members will be introduced, and there will be a special performance by a cast member of the musical “Wicked,” sponsored by Broadway in Chicago.
The initial BAC Challenge sought to raise $500,000 by the end of 2014, in which Fifth Third Bank would forgive $2 million in debt. In essence, every dollar raised would be worth $4 in debt relief.
However, that would still have left the arts center with a mortgage of more than $2 million.
“The success we’ve experienced in the first two months gives us the confidence to believe that we can raise the $2.25 million more we need to be debt free by the end of next year,” Stanton said.
“Businesses and community residents have been stepping up their support, and we believe that as we get better organized, beginning with our reception Wednesday, we can raise the additional money and come away debt free.”
According to multiple sources, the arts center got into trouble when it developed a building expansion campaign that resulted in $12 million in debt. When the center was slow in repaying the money, Fifth Third Bank eventually demanded the ouster of the center’s director.
Political leaders in the 19th Ward leaned on the center’s board of trustees to terminate the director after it resisted the bank’s demands. The director was fired and is now suing the Beverly Arts Center.
Whatever political machinations transpired behind the scenes, the end result is that the arts center not only received $250,000 from the city of Chicago, but O’Shea has become personally involved in the battle to save the cultural institution.
He solicited Emanuel’s support, has personally approached local businesses and will personally be taking orders in the KFC drive-through lane Tuesday.
Almost as important, a new group of community leaders has stepped up to lead the fundraising charge, and residents, realizing a community institution is in jeopardy, have a renewed commitment to make the arts center successful.
The center offers outreach programs that serve nearly 3,000 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade 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 arts center stages about 50 live concerts a year with 14,700 people attending the shows. It runs 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 arts classes for 1,080 students and 50 different arts camps serving 600 students.
The Southwest Side and nearby suburbs have often been referred to as a cultural wasteland, and I long have believed the Beverly Arts Center didn’t do enough outreach to surrounding communities.
It has relied, understandably, on the Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood communities for its base of support. But if promoted effectively beyond those areas, I believe it could expand its influence and attract a broader audience far into the suburbs.
As a visitor, I often have found its gallery exhibits lacking in imagination on the one hand and a sense of community history on the other.
The Beverly community is home to numerous broadcasters, writers, artists and local historians whose presence is simply not felt in the building.
The lack of interactive exhibits in an era of technology is an oversight that needs to be remedied.
But the good news is that the community has rallied around a unique cultural institution worth saving.