No Comment: The Mayor Turns Away the Public

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

For going on two years I’ve worked with the stalwart defenders of the Lincoln Arts Center.

The long-time, self-supporting hands-on Chapel Hill ceramics arts program is poised to die. Decades spent by staff and students alike building a strong community. Fostering creativity in the young, old, rich, poor, infirm and not. Gone because more than two years is too short for our leadership to act.

Continuity, it appears, be damned.

Incredible irony for a Town bent on satisfying a lust for arts consumption (upping developer contributions to purchasing art to %2).

This isn’t about the lone program that has kept the flame of recreational arts production alive. This is about furthering a commitment to assist the growth of our residents – body and mind. This year’s budget has $2.7+ million allocated for body, none, as of two weeks ago, for preserving this program squarely aimed at expanding the artistic mind.

An incredible shame given how long, years and years in this case, the Town has known about that tickling clock. The sands have nearly run out for this venerable, popular program. The school system has asked it to vacate Lincoln Center.

The roads must roll – the program must move or perish.

Earlier last week (Tuesday), the group met to draft a response to an April 23rd agenda item covering staff’s response to our previous petition to save the program.

These citizens pulled together their critique of the two small and unsuitable spaces. Firmed up, once again, the costs ($25-40K) of making the Community Park’s Plant Road garage a great space for ceramics. Spoke of how saving this program should serve as a catalyst for more investment in hands-on arts programs. Gathered speakers to respond – in detail – to the rather insubstantial effort the current interim head of Parks and Recreations’ so far has proffered.

Then, sometime after, the online agenda changed. Staff would now respond May 7th.

Considering the very, very, very short time left to budget and plan for the programs continuity (roughly 60 days), these supporters decided to appear before Council anyway on April 23rd to share their research and concerns.

I contacted the Town Manager’s office to make sure they knew these folks were on the way – no problem.

Our five speakers gathered this evening to find out the Mayor would not allow them to speak on this issue.

No comment allowed, even during the 3 minutes every one – citizen and not – has traditionally had to air any issues whether they’re on the agenda or not.

In all the years I’ve participated in Town politics, I don’t recall anyone, even some North Raleigh visitors upset with the way our Town won’t discriminate against folks, not being allowed to use their 3 minutes before Council.

The Town had notice these Lincoln Center activists would appear. the Mayor knows a timely resolution is necessary – that we’ve come to those last critical weeks before the budget is finalized – that circumstances are threatening to overwhelm any desire they may have to save the program. It was “Sorry, no comment.”

The group took their dismissal in stride – in good spirits prepared to return May 7th.

They’ll be back then present their research and concerns to the Mayor and Council. To me, it’s another two weeks gone in a process dragging on more than two years. Another two weeks staff fails to tap into the creativity of our citizenry. Another two weeks for a poor result to be set in the bureaucratic concrete.

Sorry guys, to me, the dismissal is an uncalled usurpation of the citizen’s right to redress – an uncharacteristic and unfortunate turn of events for a Council that’s so far held to the great Chapel Hill tradition of letting folks say their piece.

Lincoln Center Arts Program Needs a New Home

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Karen Fisher’s Feb. 21st letter to the Chapel Hill News:

The Lincoln Arts Center has to find a new home or risk closing its door permanently. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools administrative offices will be expanding into the space that the Lincoln Arts Center pottery studio has leased for 30 years. Chapel Hill is in danger of losing this incredible self-supporting, community resource. All it needs to continue is a space adequate for hands-on artwork, preferably near a bus line.

The Lincoln Arts Center has provided classes for over 8,500 registered students. These students include school-aged children, senior citizens and all ages in between. The center serves students of all skill levels and abilities including students with special needs.

There is a sliding fee schedule that makes these classes accessible to citizens of many different income levels. Where else in Chapel Hill can such a diverse group of citizens find wonderful arts instruction and explore their own creativity?

There is no shortage of fine teachers and able assistants in the area, but where will they teach and inspire their students if the Lincoln Arts Center studio closes it doors? All other hand-on arts/pottery programs in the area are privately held and out of range for many of our citizens.

What does it say about our community if this program closes down for lack of space? Are we supporters of community-based arts? We certainly have some wonderful galleries and fine artists in our midst. Where else but at the community level do we nurture the creativity of our citizens?

Take action: Come to the next Chapel Hill Town Council Meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. and lend your support. A petition to find a new home for the Lincoln Arts Center will be presented at that meeting.

Take action: Write to Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy (e-mail: kevinfoy@townofchapelhill.org or 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill 27514 or telephone: 968-2714) and/or The Chapel Hill Town Council (e-mail: mayorandcouncil@townofchapelhill.org or 306 N. Columbia St., Chapel Hill 27516, telephone: 968-2845).

Absolutely eloquent Karen.

As of now (Mar. 16th, 2007) it appears that the Lincoln Arts Center is homeless and that this unique,self-supporting program is kaput by October unless Council finds it a new home.

I’ll be posting both those calls to save the only publicly supported hands-on arts program in Chapel Hill and further information as the story develops.

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