The Arts and Lansdale

Last night was yet another unveiling of what an Arts Center in Lansdale might look like. Once again we heard the platitudes of how Lansdale needs and wants the arts, how it’s going to stimulate the local economy and what a great gathering place it’s going to be. Sounds good, right? Of course it does. We’ve heard this before. Those in power currently say that we’ll do it right this time and that we’ve learned from the mistakes of the past. While some of the details may be different from four or five years ago, the recurring, structural problem running through the idea of promoting the arts in Lansdale is that there aren’t any really committed arts groups around to warrant an arts center. For that matter, there aren’t any really committed residents to this project either. And when I write committed, I mean financially committed. My critics will say, “Wait! You’re wrong! There was a meeting last week and forty artists came! How can you say that Lansdale doesn’t want an arts center in town???!!!” There was also the petition that was circulated last year with thousands of signatures attesting the fact that residents and non-residents want the arts in Lansdale. Lansdale really, really wants the arts!!!

Well, going to countless meetings, signing petitions and repeating over and over again that we love the arts isn’t going to make an arts center successful. Even hiring consultants isn’t enough. There needs to be blood, sweat and tears and more importantly, there needs to be money– not just government money– if this project is going to work.

Ms. Kirchner favors hiring a fundraising firm for a capital campaign and is quoted as saying “It is a lot of work” and “It will take a highly specialized group to get it done right”. It will be a lot of work, but hiring a fundraising firm is just another example of transferring the burden of financial sacrifice to someone else (I do understand at some point, a fundraising firm may need to be considered). But any fundraising firm is going to want to see some commitment from the public first. I can hear my naysayers say, “There is commitment! There’s commitment from local government! We’ve spent lots of money on this arts center and we’re committed to spending a lot more! The people have elected us to bring the arts to Lansdale!” Well, folks we’ve got an election coming up and as we’ve seen in the primary election, there are some people who aren’t thrilled with the government’s subsidizing the arts in Lansdale. We’ve also seen how a change in government can kill a project, which is what happened to the arts center in 2010. Therefore, if the structural foundation for an arts center in Lansdale depends on the fickleness of local government, then the arts center is doomed.

Now to show my critics that I do look for solutions, I have this challenge: for each person who wants this arts center, there needs to be a financial commitment. $1,000*100 people= $100,000. $500*1,000 people=$500,000. I’ll be the first one to write a check. It’s a start, and it shows a TRUE commitment not just lip service to the project. It also gives more credibility to the project which is something that the fundraising firm will be able to tout to its prospective donors. Because if the professional fundraisers come to Lansdale and see that there is no “skin in the game” other than a majority on Council, then I anticipate that their commitment– and our commitment— to fundraising for the arts center will be nothing more than the fee we pay them.

P.S. As an example of local, grassroots fundraising, one need look no further than Whites Road Park. In 2004, the North Penn Rotary Club decided to build the Bandshell as part of its Centennial project. The bandshell replaced a shoddy, brick patio. On September 7, 2005 the Bandshell was dedicated. The cost of the Bandshell was approximately $225,000. The number of Rotarians at the time was about 70. That’s $3,214 per Rotarian. My point is this: there are more Lansdale residents than Rotarians; there are many more local artists than Rotarians; therefore raising more money for the arts center than the Rotary Club did for the Bandshell should be a no brainer.

bandshell 003


6 responses to “The Arts and Lansdale

  1. Richard Strahm

    My pen is poised over my check, Andy, so we’ll see who can write it first! I think you underestimate the largess that exists in our community.

  2. Richard, that’s the purpose of this blog post is flushing out the money. In speaking with a well connected resident today, she expressed to me that she never knew about the origin of the bandshell or how it was funded. If this arts center is be a success that largess needs to be tapped, and as I wrote in my blog, it would be helpful if there were commitments sooner than later.

  3. Denton Burnell

    Richard — I couldn’t agree more.

    Andy — sad to say — this one doesn’t require a blog in response. :-) You make my points well — let’s put it to this community (and its environs), and see what happens. If, as Richard indicates, you underestimate our community, my laundry awaits. Let’s see if Lansdale TRULY wants an Arts center. If they do, they will get one. Otherwise, we hope for the best.

    I will say, with regard to the election, I dispute your ability to draw parallels. The candidates that you ran against (Dan and Mike) spent 1/2 of 1% of the money your candidates did to buy the election. That has ZERO to do with hearts and minds. Not to mention the various “not entirely true” comments on all of your mailers. For example, case in point: “Council further plans an additional expenditure of over $4 million on the Performing Arts Center”. Really? I don’t remember such a vote. Because it never happened. And may never happen. That’s what this whole process is about, but your campaign lit was meant to frighten, not inform, people. So, with apologies, I disagree fully on that point.

    Oh, and my check will right on the tail of yours and Richards.

  4. Well, up to this point, there really hasn’t been much of an opportunity to be ‘financially committed’. For the past couple years, committed to what? It has all been meetings and talk. This past week has been the first real picture of something to be excited and committed about.

    I think everyone agrees that there needs to be private money coming from committed supporters. I would like to see a campaign using the ‘ol diamond, gold, silver, bronze type of format. And maybe on an entrance wall or along the main corridor on the first floor have all the names of donors listed. The 311 Arts ‘Wall of Support’.

    Lansdale is a blue collar town with many tight budgeted families, including myself. For many, no matter how strong they support the project, just don’t have the $ to PROVE their support at this time. Many living pay check to pay check. 100 people at $1,000.00 can be a tough sell (though 3 down 97 to go as noted above) but 1,000 people at $100 may be a little more achievable or a combination of.

    This project is something I believe the majority wants and I believe the future success of our downtown district hinges on it’s success. And for it to succeed, which it can, requires the majority to support it in some way and work together, not battle & debate constantly. Differences in opinions is just human nature but unfortunately it does create obstacles in progress. Whether it be for easy target political reasons or just to complain, being negative or criticizing without being constructive helps no one and does not help this town that we are so passionate about.

    My $.02

    One other note, please be careful, some of the loudest negative internet voices don’t even live in Lansdale.

  5. Denton,

    Has is not been mentioned many times in the Administration and Finance Committees in the long term capital improvement list going back to 2011 and as recently as a few months ago that the Borough has allocated $3.8 million for improvements to the arts center? You are correct that money has not been spent on the arts center. However, actions speak louder than words and to date the Borough has spent $90,000 per year on the Arts Center upkeep, $50,000 on AMS Consultants that made a recommendation of doing the project in phases which the was flatly rejected because the Borough was all in and wanted to do it right this time. Then we hired Laura Burnham for $35,000 and now as of Monday’s presentation, Ms. Kirchner is proposing hiring a fundraising consultant and extended Ms. Burnham’s contract. All of the above points to a desire to eventually spend that $3.8 million on the arts center. Not to mention the architect’s study of 311 West Main Street and their fees for renderings and designs to date. I can’t see how a reasonable person would not infer from the past and current spending that we were NOT going down the road towards spending the $3.8 million.

    Concerning the election, I disagree with you and here is why. Mr. Dunigan and Mr. Sobel had every right to spend or not spend on their elections. That’s their right. In the Fall of 2009, Mr. Sobel– who was then campaigning– spoke out at a Council meeting against a bridge loan of $70,000 to the Council of the Arts stating that the people of Lansdale could not afford this amount in such difficult economic times. As Chairman of the 311 Arts Task Force three years later, he was in full support of going down the road to spend money on consultants and eventually, on the arts center. And correct me if I’m wrong but one of the three major campaign issues in 2009 was the mismanagement of the arts center. The residents voted against it then in 2009 and they voted against it this year in primary. I can’t see how you are making it into anything otherwise.

    Now as a bit of an aside, I am curious to know if anyone has ever considered selling 311 West Main Street with a Deed Restriction that limits its use to a restaurant/dinner theater? I don’t think that I have ever heard those words mentioned in regard to the arts center. If it’s what I imagine and have heard it to be, we would be off the hook in having to repay the State and County as the facility would be fulfilling its mission. Because any way you slice it, we’re either running an art center or acting as a landlord, both of which are questionable roles of local government. Just look at this article regarding Montgomery County’s “White Elephant”.

  6. Andy – a reasonable person would infer that we are being deliberate and methodical in our approach to 311. (And yes, that costs money. Although a small fraction of the millions already thrown (wasted?) on 311 prior to 2010 because of inadequate planning). And if, in the end, there is no obvious public support, then we don’t invest the significant dollars. Plain and simple. The money is in our capital plan because that’s simply a good financial management practice — a capital plan that didn’t exist prior to 4 years ago. (Something your mailers missed, by the way.) It doesn’t commit us to spending it at all.

    Regarding the election. They have the right, yes. Just not the means or the endorsement. And if you think the latter doesn’t matter (even in the absence of any other factual information about a candidate), I have a bridge to sell you. The party machine in the Primary drowns out real dialogue in the absence of another voice shouting even more loudly, which can only be accomplished through spending $$$. And the outcome doesn’t appear to hinge on whether the Parties are even honest and factual in what they say.

    Re: the deed restriction — doesn’t that defeat your mantra of “let the market decide”?

    It’s really boils down to a simple question: do you believe that Lansdale benefits long-term from an arts and culture destination on Main Street? If the answer is yes, then isn’t it worth the time (and money) to truly understand whether creating that destination is feasible, practical and has the right level of real support? That’s where we are right now. Don’t we owe it to Lansdale to see if that’s a possible future for our town? (I smell another mailer coming, so let me be clear — our taxes don’t need to go up to figure that out!!)

    The comparison to the Health Services building makes little sense to me. It’s purpose is functional, and it’s function and location drive no knock-on benefit to the surrounding community, in direct contrast to what a cultural destination would do for Lansdale. Apples and Oranges I’m afraid.

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