Help from City Unlike Other Arts Centers in Fox Valley, Hemmens Gets Municipal Funds
Spak, Kara, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Kara Spak Daily Herald Staff Writer
Performing arts are considered a transcendent endeavor, an opportunity to lift performers and their audience to experience a glimpse of the sublime.
In the wake of a national recession, however, the arts are increasingly being viewed through the cold prism of dollars and cents.
This is true in Elgin, where a budget crisis likely will lead to heightened scrutiny of the Hemmens Cultural Center, a uniquely funded arts venture.
Arts centers throughout Illinois are scrambling for funds, some just to stay open, said Alan Leder, visual and multidisciplinary arts director for the Illinois Arts Council.
"Overall in terms of funding (in Illinois) all centers are falling in the same category," Leder said. "Where is the money in a downsizing economy? The state will fund 8 to 10 percent of a budget, so 90 percent of what they have to raise comes from local communities, foundations and business."
For the Hemmens, the traditional place to seek local funding was the city's coffers, not directly from residents, businesses or grant agencies.
Unlike arts centers in Aurora and Crystal Lake, the Hemmens receives heavy operational support from the city of Elgin.
And unlike The Centre of Elgin recreation facility or the Highlands of Elgin golf course, the Hemmens is not designed to be self-sustaining, said Sean Stegall, Elgin's assistant city manager, a job that includes monitoring the Hemmens.
For 2003, $1.4 million was budgeted for the Hemmens, and $600,000, or 43 percent, is expected to come back to the city through ticket sales. The rest is financed through Elgin's general fund, the fund that fuels all ongoing city services.
"Performing arts centers are not self-supporting," Stegall said. "But it is a quality of life amenity like parks and recreation programs. You try to recover as many costs as you can but it is not set up in a manner allowing it to be self-supporting."
Elgin officials already made one big change at the Hemmens, eliminating the position of manager, one of 13 jobs cut throughout the city to help stave off a projected deficit of more than $2 million. Hemmens manager Blythe Rainey-Cuyler is still working for Elgin, but eventually the job will transition over to Stegall and a team of city employees.
Stegall added that the city council recently reconfirmed the mandate to improve not only the building, operations and quality of the line-up, but to have the shows pay for their direct costs.
The 2001-02 season was the first season that didn't pay for its direct costs, though Stegall said under Rainey-Cuyler's management the Hemmens "covered costs more than ever."
Two other local performing arts centers, the Paramount Arts Centre in Aurora and the Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake, are self-sustaining non-profits.
Though intimately connected to their local communities, neither receives direct funding from the towns they reside in. Because they are not run by municipalities, officials at both venues did not provide annual budgets.
This less formalized and subsidized relationship forces the staff of the arts centers to offer not only cutting edge performances but also network deep within the community to guarantee people support the programming and venue.
"Not having any government support, you really have to rely on citizens saying, 'I really love this place, I really believe in this place,' " said Steve Duchrow, Raue's executive director. …