Sandpoint Arts Alliance closes doors

SANDPOINT — After seven years of promoting community art, the Sandpoint Arts Alliance has closed its doors.

A local nonprofit that hosted art classes, artists in residence and more, the Arts Alliance board called it quits at the beginning of March after determining that sufficient funding simply wasn’t in place. According to former board interim president Elle Susnis, when local donations dried up, grant funding slowed to a trickle as well.

Susnis said the Arts Alliance ran a fairly tight ship with a limited amount of overhead. However, expenses like rent, utility payments, arts and office supplies and the salary of a part-time manager quickly added up.

In past years, the organization always managed to break even. This was the first year when it became apparent that local support would not be sufficient to pay the bills. Board members tried to devise an all-volunteer plan that would eliminate the paid managerial position, but with everyone else working day jobs, they couldn’t find a workable system, Susnis said.

After considering the issue, they notified their landlord that they’d be closing shop at the end of February.

“(Arts Alliance manager Carol Kovalchuk) did a great job bringing in the grants, but this year we just didn’t get enough funding,” Susnis said.

The primary problem was the relationship between grant funding and local donations, she added.

In order to qualify for most grants, organization representatives had to prove there existed sufficient local support to maintain sustainability, Susnis said.

When local funding declined, the Arts Alliance simultaneously began losing grants, which made up more than half the operational budget, she added.

Many arts organizations in town have had a difficult time since the downturn in the economy. Last year, the Pend Oreille Arts Council asked the community for increased assistance following a membership drop of around 27 percent and a corporate sponsorship decline of 48 percent.  

“It’s always about the funding,” Susnis said. “Arts in Sandpoint are always a struggle.”

Despite the disappointment, Susnis remains optimistic about the future. Many Arts Alliance personnel have already gone on to find new projects.

Susnis was recently appointed to the Sandpoint Arts Commission, while Kovalchuk is forming plans for upcoming painting classes, she said.

Meanwhile, Conversations, a gathering of artists previously linked to the Arts Alliance, continues meeting the first Thursday of every month.

In addition, Susnis said the Arts Alliance created a network of artists that will provide the groundwork should any future organization rise to take its place.

“It’s onward and upward from here,” Susnis said. “I think we know what worked and what didn’t, and we can use that for any future endeavors.”

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