Art group, Winder at odds over cultural arts center
BY KRISTI REED
After eleven years, the Georgia Piedmont Arts Center (GPAC) may be leaving downtown Winder.
GPAC board members said they were notified Monday that the City of Winder is terminating their lease in the Cultural Arts Center.
Christina Sullo, GPAC board member and pottery instructor at the center, said she was told the city needs the space for offices and that the artists’ group must vacate the premises by September.
“They own the building, so they decided they would take that space,” she said. “At this point, we’re homeless.”
Winder City Administrator Bob Beck said GPAC has not been given any ultimatum.
“We have not kicked them out of the facility,” he said. “What we have basically told them is that they have to clean up their act.”
Earlier this year, Beck asked GPAC to furnish certain financial documents to the city. Beck said each organization Winder supports is required to provide the same documents to demonstrate fiscal accountability with the resources provided by the city. GPAC has not yet provide the requested documents.
“The city has been providing resources and services to an organization that doesn’t meet the fiscal and financial standards of the city,” Beck said. “If they don’t get their financial house in order, they will be kicked out. We will not support an organization that is not financially and fiscally responsible.”
Beck said taxpayers don’t want the city to spend money on any group that is not accountable to the city in terms of performance.
“The city of Winder has no intention of kicking the arts out of the city of Winder,” he said. “But the organization that promotes the arts will be run by responsible people in a fiscally responsible manner.”
GPAC board member Jo Cooper admits there were some organizational problems when the new board took over earlier this year, but said that does not justify the city’s actions.
“We took over and we did not know what the situation was. We got together as many of the documents as we could locate,” she said.
Cooper said GPAC has provided the city with last year’s financial statement and will provide year-to-date numbers in June. Cooper said the board is also working to resolve an issue with the group’s tax-exempt status. The city had requested a copy of GPAC’s 501-3(c), a document the group was unable to provide. Cooper said the document will be ready within a few days.
“Everything is in order now. We did our very best to get it in order as quickly as we possibly could,” she said.
Cooper said both GPAC and Winder were at fault for the current situation. “We’re both wrong,” she said. “An organization like [GPAC] should have been run more efficiently there’s no doubt about that. We did not realize the situation and we feel like we are being punished because of other people’s incompetence.”
Beck maintains that the city is trying to work with GPAC. The group currently occupies 20,000 square feet in the Cultural Arts Center. While the city does need the additional space, Beck said they have asked GPAC for information regarding exactly how much space the group needs in order to find a suitable alternative location.
“So far, I have not received that information,” he said.
Christina Sullo said her understanding is that the city offered to lease the group space in another building for $500 to $600 a month, but that amount is beyond their means. As a non-profit organization, GPAC does not have the money to buy a building or pay rent. Since the alternative space is also in need of renovations, GPAC has declined the city’s offer.
Board members have made preliminary contact with individuals in Jackson County in an effort to find a new home for GPAC.
Sullo said, for her, it is not the building that makes GPAC special, it is the members and the artists.
“We can continue to pursue our mission statement no matter where we are,” she said. “If the City of Winder isn’t the place for us, then that’s fine. We’ll be able to find some place that will be right for us.”
Artist Brenda McDaniel has been a member of GPAC for the past five years. She said she simply cannot understand why the city would promote its cultural arts center while evicting practicing artists from the building.
“We have tried several different times to get an art association up and running,” she said. “We’re finally getting a toehold and have upwards of 50 members now. We have classes every single week and now all of that is going to be gone. Without a home, we can’t teach.”
The arts center regularly offers art classes, camps, and art shows. Local residents can learn pottery, painting, drawing or sculpture at an affordable cost. Currently, GPAC is hosting an art show featuring art by seniors at Winder-Barrow High School. The art center participates in local festivals and holds shows throughout the year. GPAC also holds an annual fundraiser to raise money for the animal shelter.
“For a group of volunteers, I really feel like we do a lot for the community,” Sullo said. Beck agrees.
“I think there are some good people in GPAC,” he said. “They just have not been sensitive to the legal and financial accountability required. They’re artists-not businesspeople. Their intentions are good, but you’ve got to take care of business.”