A leadership transition has shaken a 20-year fixture on Bend’s art scene.
Cate O’Hagan led Arts Central for two decades, shaping it as the leading advocate for arts in central Oregon. She left, without much ado, on April 18.
“The straw that broke the camels back was that the board was showing, in my mind, blatant disregard for our contractual agreement, without discussion, and certainly without my knowledge,” O’Hagan said.
O’Hagan was referring to Arts Central’s real estate contracts. The organization’s board recently downsized the administrative office, canceling an existing lease and making arrangements to occupy a smaller space.
Arts Central runs three kinds of educational programs: artists-in-the schools, a mobile classroom and Art Station, a hub for youth and adult classes. But the office in question was O’Hagan’s. And O’Hagan felt it was appropriate for her to continue to supervise all three programs as well as attend to Arts Central’s fundraising.
“I thought it would be unwise of me to be made accountable and responsible for absolutely everything and do all the fundraising and not have an accountable board,” O’Hagan said.
Arts Central chairman Bert Kronmiller confirmed that board members and O’Hagan had been discussing her role.
“I don’t think there’s one specific issue,” Kronmiller said. “We were working on a slight transition, moving forward with fundraising that required a lot of grant writing to help alleviate some of the external distractions for Cate; we reworked her title a little bit.”
In a statement, the board announced Thursday that they have appointed Deborah Allen, the education director at Art Station, to take over as Arts Central’s interim executive director.
Several funders in the region say they hope Arts Central can survive. Mary Campbell of Smith Properties is a former Arts Central board member.
“I think it’s going to be a difficult transition,” Campbell said. “But I’m hoping what comes out of it is a renewed interest in supporting the arts, particularly arts in the schools and art in some of the rural areas.”
Campbell and one other donor who had agreed to help with Art Central’s fall fundraiser have withdrawn their support in light of the leadership change.
The organization appears not to have fully recovered from the economic hits taken during the recession. Public support dropped 40 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to Arts Central’s tax filings. Some gains were made in 2013, the last year for which tax records are available.
Kronmiller says enrollment at Art Station classes is approaching pre-recession levels. He’s not worried about how O’Hagan’s departure might affect fundraising.
“Not at the moment,” Kronmiller said. “We’ve been keeping sponsors and corporate partners informed about whats going on and they’ve all been very supportive.”
What about individual donors?
“I know there have been several committee members who have resigned their post,” he said. “But that shouldn’t have an immediate impact on the organization.”
The fundraising game isn’t getting any easier.
“There’s more of a need now to get individuals supporting,” said Michelle Boss Barba, a program officer for arts and culture with the Oregon Community Foundation. “There’s a lot of volunteerism, but in terms of actual cash donations to move things along, there’s a need to continue to increase. As we’ve seen corporate donations decrease, we’ve seen more strain put on this individuals.”
Like many rural parts of the state, central Oregon’s arts scene has limited cash flow and often relies on grants from individuals. A few well-heeled patrons can make a huge difference.
Historically, that’s been the case for Arts Central. Its 2013 tax documents indicate that 45 percent of its revenue came from individual contributions, 36 percent came from program fees and government grants made up just percent.