InterArts Dissolves Leaving CPJazz to the Faithful

fork-in-the-road

After four growth years producing seven community festivals, InterArts has dissolved, leaving all assets with Jazz Society of Oregon. Between 2009 and 2013, InterArts presented St. Johns neighborhood community events including Cathedral Park Jazz Festival (2012-2013) and No.Fest: New Music and Arts (2008-2011).

With a mission of production rather than presentation, favoring interdisciplinary programming and independent talent, the little organization served several hundreds artists and reinvigorated the main street economy of St. Johns. New arts and music businesses opened concurrently against the grain of the great recession.

The reasons for dissolution are several; none of them are due to outright financial or legal problems. Indeed, prospects have been increasingly positive each year.

The small Board entrusted me as President to appropriately execute a dissolution process. They are Treasurer, Rolf Semprebon, a KBOO icon and tax-preparer, and Vice President, Todd Norman Guess, consultant of integral arts and practices.

I met with Jazz Society of Oregon representatives, Arthur Marx and Scott Miller, on Saturday, January 25th, 2014 to consult on the logistics of carrying CPJazz forward into its 34th annual revolution. I officially filed the Closing Form and Articles of Dissolution with State of Oregon the same day.

Jazz Society of Oregon has always promoted Cathedral Park Jazz Festival in its Jazz Scene magazine. Arthur Marx has been a stalwart supporter since the early nineties and his environmental disposal company in St. Johns, WasteXpress, provided both financial and in-kind support leading into and including the years of InterArts.

BACKGROUND

In 2012, Cathedral Park Jazz Festival was administratively dissolved because of an investigation prompted by the Oregon Department of Justice, following a complaint from unpaid musicians backed by the Musicians Union. The only rainy day in CPJazz history was an act of God for then Directors, Gary Boehm and Joe Beeler, as it came the same year that many sponsors, including KMHD, lost their patience with the declining directors. The revenue fall out nearly caused a civil claim for fraud. Attorney, James Shadduck, represented both Directors, saving them from prosecution, concurrently representing Mr. Boehm in an injury claim.

This is when InterArts stepped in, at my behest, to save the longest running free jazz fest on the west coast. Talks began in April, but it became official on May 11th, 2012.

I assembled a team with jazz musicians including Mary-Sue Tobin and Paul Evans to boost transparency and bridge the actual jazz scene to budget talks. Together, we revived fair pay and pulled off what audience members claimed as the best in years. In 2013, even greater enthusiasm was reported from the crowd.

For more than a year, I consulted with George Thorne through the Cultural Leadership program via Regional Arts and Culture Council. He helped me find allies and to trust the work of others while guiding best practices. The result was the most successful jazz fest on record. But when it came to my concerns over staff pay, George indicated that I was subsidizing the festival by volunteering the role of Executive Director—and that needed fixing or lingering problems would repeat.

Also providing artistic support was Heidi Schwegler (Oregon College of Art & Craft). Her presence became integral. The meeting that she was to be elected Secretary of the Board became the meeting that I resigned. There was mixed support and disappointment for my decision, but everybody agreed the demands to grow InterArts became overwhelming for them too and so we agreed to dissolve.

BASIC NUMBERS

As the resigned CEO of a small non-profit corporation that started from zero, I am proud of my accomplishments.  This chart helps illuminate financial progress.

InterArts Graph

Each year, spending increased along revenue lines, paying more for talent and contractors with almost no increase for administrative staff—a figure so low it does not register on the chart so it goes omitted. Artists served improved but data is only partially available. Total industrial impact also increased in parallel, benefiting the community far and wide.

REFLECTIONS

No.Fest continues rebranded and re-rooted under the direction of Jeffrey Helwig, co-founder of No.Fest and original vice president of InterArts. The lasting impact of that event in the St. Johns community is profound.

The 2013 Cathedral Park Jazz Festival was a breakthrough year on several counts. It generated more annual revenue than ever; the roster featured international talent for the first time, the program extended by one day to make room for educational and late night events, we partnered with more local organizations and artists than before and bridged a direct connection between artistic programming and economic boosting—a model devised from No.Fest.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect for me was the opportunity to take an historic jazz concert and apply contemporary art festival concepts for a more robust program that could possibly attract a new audience. PDX Pop Now has become a competing event for the younger generation of potential jazz lovers.

I was still handling the majority of all fundraising and communications while the project was becoming more subtle and complex, requiring continued publicity, reporting and other specialized skills. To do things right, including fair wages for everyone, meant a very fast growth unsuitable to non-profit business.

The challenges faced and surmounted have made a very experienced person out of me with improved professionalism. It goes with the territory of non-profit volunteerism to push beyond your qualifications and actually learn, develop skills under fire, sometimes burning your reputation.

These events demand in-kind sponsors and skilled volunteers, but the supply is short of demand. The hardest part is asking anyone else to volunteer his or her time to resolve your shortcomings or simply lighten your workload. At some point, you might simply run out of hours in the day and volunteers to help you. Your heart becomes weary of asking for so much when you know inequity intimately.

Many folks and businesses stepped up to help over the years and I am proud of the long list of sponsors and staff that I worked with. The sacrifice of the many protects the full wages of musicians and production contractors foremost even though everyone totally deserves their fees. But social inequity can happen in the least likely places; the rare occurrence of an effective CEO making the lowest wage in the corporation and an artist making the highest happens too often in the non-profit arts sector. Yet, talent fees are a piece of the budget that should never be sacrificed.

Arts presenters have to gain tremendous foundation and corporate support to afford fair wages for both artists and staff. That is why internships become an educational program. Both the volunteer and company shoulder reduced risk. As for me, I shouldered double risk as the President with fiscal responsibility, while volunteering and learning by fire at once. I survived and I am better for it.

WHAT’S NEXT

I cannot speak for Jazz Society of Oregon, so I can just suggest waiting for announcements from Cathedral Park Jazz Festival through email and social media.

I realized that my goals for InterArts as a whole, beyond the festivals, were more important to me and possibly more attainable through a small LLC, owned and governed by me and at most one partner. The staging of my new company will come slowly and deliberately. I’ll simply say that cultural production and social broadcasting are the basis for my future endeavors.

One program from InterArts will continue via www.interarts.us, under my ownership. That is the community arts blog that has covered Whitebird and PICA events over the last year. The program is currently non-commercial. It stimulates attendance of the arts by covering cultural happenings through community journalism. Arts presenters participate by extending complimentary tickets and festival passes to volunteer writers. Writers participate by accepting assignments on a volunteer basis. It will be updated with new journals by March.




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