Many upset by abrupt closing of Hinsdale arts center
The Hinsdale Center for the Arts offered dance, voice and art classes for children and adults until the organization closed last week for financial reasons.
Updated: July 31, 2012 2:19PM
Teachers who had taught at Hinsdale Center for the Arts for years were caught by surprise when the center closed its doors last week, and at least one founding member questions whether the decision was premature.
“It closed on a dime,” said Patricia Hurd, who taught private voice lessons there for 12 or 13 years. “I’m shocked. I love that little place.”
Hurd was not teaching lessons this summer, so she heard the news from other teachers before someone from the nonprofit arts organization contacted her.
“There are a lot of people who worked very hard to keep that place going,” Hurd said. For it to close, with no advance warning, “something’s not right.”
Because she was not teaching recently at the center, Hurd was not left wondering whether she would be paid for her time. Some instructors reported they have not been paid yet for the lessons they gave the week before the center closed.
Hurd knew money was an issue for the organization.
“For a while, they were operating with a skeletal staff,” she said.
Directors to lead the organization had come and gone, Hurd said.
“For a year or two, we didn’t have a director, in order to save money.”
Last year, the center hired Barbara Yokom as interim executive director. She implemented changes that made sense to Hurd, such as improving the organization’s website and requiring the teachers working for the center to sign contract.
“Some of it was much more professional,” Hurd said.
But Hurd questioned other policies, such as the one that required students taking individual lessons to sign up for 18 weeks of lessons at a time and pay for all of them in advance.
“If you missed a lesson, there were no refunds, the lesson had to be made up. The way kids’ schedules are today, think of the conflicts that could occur,” Hurd said.
Hurd said it was not realistic to expect her high school-age students not to miss a few lessons.
“Then finding the time to reschedule is very difficult,” she said.
Nancy Hotchkiss is one of the founders of the center, which, in 1978, was called the Hinsdale Cultural Arts Council before it found a home in Katherine Legge Memorial Park. She also is one of 40 life trustees.
A couple of weeks ago the life trustees were invited to hear about a new plan for the center, Hotchkiss said.
“They were going to change the name and do great things,” Hotchkiss said.
The name that was proposed was Arts Life and the organization was going to approach the Village Board about using the other vacant buildings in the park for programs.
Yokom “was working very hard to pull this thing up by its bootstraps,” Hotchkiss said. “But their timetable was off, they couldn’t pull it off in time.”
Hotchkiss said officials from the center told her the organization was between $40,000 and $50,000 in the red, an amount she considers “a very doable shortfall.” She can recall at least six different occasions when the organization faced the same size deficit and survived.
“To pay off their debts is not going to be a problem,” she said.
But the center must not lose its lease for the building, nor cease to exist as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization, she said.
Hotchkiss also recommends the Board of Trustees be expanded from its seven members. She recalls when the board has 14 members.
To keep a nonprofit viable, “there needs to be a lot of people involved,” Hotchkiss said, people to raise money and do the work.
She is optimistic those people exist in Hinsdale.