Loss of support threatens arts center

Loss of support threatens arts center

Every time Great Neck Arts Center Executive Director Regina Gil said she hears rumors that the nonprofit organization she founded 16 years ago could likely close its doors, she has to laugh.

But for Gill, the speculation is really no laughing matter.

“Is there a danger that the arts center will close? That makes me laugh,” Gil said. “There has been a danger since the first day I opened. It’s been a tight-rope balancing act since the day I opened my doors in 1995.”

And now Gil said that tenuous situation is only getting worse.

“Is there more of a danger now?” Gil said. “Given the circumstances and given the withdrawal of support and the perceived withdrawal of support in the community? Sure. This is much more dangerous economic times. It’s not boom times in the ‘90s. This is scary time in 2012.”

Gil said it was a “shocking” experience over the past few weeks each time she learned that one of Great Neck’s nine village governments chose not to support the organization she founded in 1995.

Only the villages of Great Neck Plaza, Great Neck Estates and Lake Success have joined the Town of North Hempstead in entering into a contract for 2012. The deals range anywhere from between $500 and $2,000 to support the Great Neck Arts Center in what Gil called the non-profit organization’s “mission” to provide arts, entertainment and training for local residents at its location at 113 Middle Neck Road.

“Very, very disappointing,” Gil said. “Not because of the amount, because clearly the amount is not significant in terms of an annual budget, but because it’s the withdrawal of support. It’s not just financial support. It’s an implied support. It’s community support. It means that the residents allowed that to happen.”

The villages of Kings Point and Kensington have been the peninsula’s only communities to never offer financial support for the Great Neck Arts Center since its inception, Gil said.

But last month the Village of Great Neck broke its decade-long dedication to supporting the Great Neck Arts Center. Then Saddle Rock did the same at its monthly board of trustees meeting.

“When I heard that these two stalwart supporters of the arts center, that those two villages withdrew their support, yeah it was shocking,” Gil said. “I thought I couldn’t be shocked anymore by indifference, but that one got me.”

Although the Village of Thomaston had entered into contracts with the arts center in years past, Mayor Robert Stern last month said that his community had not offered money to the organization for several years.

The Great Neck Arts center was supported in 2011 monetarily with contracts from the villages of Great Neck, Great Neck Plaza, Great Neck Estates, Lake Success, Saddle Rock and the Town of North Hempstead.

“Somebody should have stood up for us at a town hall meeting and said ‘we shouldn’t withdraw support,'” Gil said. “I’m still waiting for the champions in each village to get up, the residents to get up and say ‘hey this is going to hurt the quality of our life in our community.'”

Gil said that each year the Great Neck Arts Center is funded through four separate revenue streams in addition to contributions from the local village governments.

Tuition from the organization’s School for the Arts is “essentially the bread and butter of the arts center,” Gil said.

The arts center also receives funding from grants, private donations and sponsorships of events, Gil said.

“The balance among those five components shifts,” she said. “The perfect storm would be if all of those five components had suffered severe cuts.”

In the past year, Gil said she became concerned because of a downward “shift” in the school’s tuition.

“In a world right now where our parents are cutting back on classes for their children, lets say last year they gave them four classes, this year they are going to give them two classes,” Gil said. “If you multiply that throughout the student population, suddenly you face the real possibility that the school will suffer a lets say 20-to-30-percent decrease in registration, which would hurt our tuition base.”

With only three of Great Neck’s villages choosing to support the arts center this year, Gil said the danger for her organization is now increasing.

“Essentially you’re looking at the real possibility that maybe we won’t make payroll,” Gil said. “We don’t have an endowment. We don’t have – as the schools do, as the library does, as the Great Neck parks do – we don’t have a tax base to draw upon. Nobody’s floating any bonds for us, in spite of my best efforts to try and explain how urgent and needed we are in the community.”

Gil said that there is a negative connotation with Great Neck’s mayors and board of trustee members that the contract with the arts center is viewed as a “donation.”

“These are contracts, which gave the villages an opportunity to work with us to get cultural events or cultural offerings into their villages,” Gil said. “They didn’t have to come to us. We could come to them.”

“That’s the first thing that always gets me, that these mayors continue to refer to it as a donation,” she added. “It is not.”

Gil said there is also a perception among village leaders and residents that the contract is illegal.

“Clearly it is not,” she said. “It is perfectly legal and it is encouraged. For them not to correct that perception and perpetuate that perception is a mistake.”

Although a majority of Great Neck’s village officials chose not to financially support the Great Neck Arts Center this year, many have opted to suggest to their residents that they donate money to the organization privately.

Saddle Rock Mayor Dan Levy said during his village’s board of trustees meeting last month that residents would be informed of how they could give money to the arts center as part of a monthly newsletter.

Village of Great Neck Mayor Ralph Kreitzman also lauded the Great Neck Arts Center for its contribution to the local community during his community’s board of trustees meeting last month.

Both mayors said that there are too many worthy nonprofit organizations to support and pledging money to only the Great Neck Arts Center would be unfair.

But Gil said that only encouraging residents to contribute is not adequate.

“If they showed me a letter that they sent to a resident where they made such a pitch, I’d be interested in seeing it,” Gil said. “But that’s not the point. The point is that leadership demands that they turn to their residents and say ‘this is important and if you want the value of your homes and the enrichment of your life to continue the way it’s been, then this is important for us to do.'”

While Gil said there may currently be no imminent danger for the Great Neck Arts Center, supporting the organization is important.

“Are we in danger of closing our doors tomorrow? No,” Gil said. “Does the community really want it to come to that?”

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