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.