MAC group tries to force change

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A group of members with the Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley came to the MAC’s annual meeting on Saturday expecting major changes.


Not all of the changes they sought, however, came to fruition.


Early on in the three-plus hour discussion, the group unsuccessfully called for a vote to suspend pay for six months for the museum’s five salaried staff members — two full-time and three part-time — in order to alleviate an ongoing loss of revenues. But fewer than half of the 50-plus members in attendance voted in favor of the change, which required a majority vote.


Part of their demand for the vote stems from the museum’s declining revenues and increasing expenditures. Consultants for the MAC revealed that the museum lost $138,998 in 2013 and is expected to lose $65,458 this year.


Looking at the museum’s IRS form 990s reveals net losses since at least 2008. They lost $43,466 in 2008, $3,094 in 2009, $45,317 in 2010, and $87,372 in 2011.


The biggest item operating in the red, said Richard Beckerman, one of the museum’s consultants, is the Second Chance Consignment Store, 155 W. Cedar St. MAC officials announced they will close Second Chance on Feb. 25 following the retirement of manager Carole Platt.


“(Second Chance) has been critical to our growth the past 20 years but there’s been an increase in competition in the area,” DJ Bassett, MAC executive director, said.


Beckerman said closing the store will save the museum about $21,000 a year.


The MAC also will pass to the Sequim Prairie Grange the annual Elegant Flea event, which formerly earned about $3,000 a year.


To this point

The Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley’s current available operating fund consists of about $40,000 from an endowment. That endowment is worth about $163,000, but $120,000 is restricted and can’t be used for general operating expenses.


Beckerman said the board of trustees is still considering what to do with the funds.


Several people pinpointed personnel issues with the MAC, several specifically with Bassett.


MAC member Catherine Mix said she was told several board members were driven off the board because of Bassett.


However, Bassett said this was third-hand information and that he doesn’t have anything to do with who is on the board.


Members who called for layoffs felt differently and tried to elect new board members with write-in candidates Bud Knapp, Jerry Brownfield, Louie Rychlik, Hazel Alt and Robert Stipe. But the majority favored candidates already on the ballot: Candace Burkhardt, Kevin Kennedy, Paul Schiefen and Bill Yates.


Priscilla Hudson and Jim Steeby were the only current board members in attendance, with the others excused for different reasons.


Rychlik, a lifetime member of the MAC, called for new board members because “(You’re) running it into the ground,” he said to Bassett. “It used to be all volunteers.”


He took issue with Bassett hiring a contractor to fix the Dungeness Schoolhouse’s well.


Rychlik, who operates Louie’s Well Drilling, said Bassett cost the MAC $10,000 to $15,000.


“I would have probably done it for free,” Rychlik said.


Bassett said it was his fault for not contacting Rychlik. 


Sequim Arts president Linda Stadtmiller, a former MAC board member, asked other former board members to raise their hands if they’ve resigned. Four did, but she said there has been 12 in the past two years.


In October, Sequim Arts publicized a conflict with Bassett about shared revenues, estimating about $1,000 for Sequim Arts’ Juried Art Show held in the MAC’s exhibit hall.


Stadtmiller said Bassett failed to honor their verbal agreement despite agreeing to it the previous year.

She sent correspondence to board president Gideon Cauffman, but Bassett said he did not receive the letter and that there was no spoken contract between the agencies.


Sequim Arts recently stopped renting space from the museum, as has Readers Theatre Plus.


Carol Swarbrick Dries, a Readers Theatre board member, said they rented the schoolhouse about 10 weekends a year for about seven years, bringing about 250-300 people each of those weekends.


“We won’t be using it anymore,” she said.


“This year alone we donated about $1,500 (to the MAC),” she said. “There are a lot of reasons but ... we want to open it up to more residents. The (chairlift) is not enough to get residents up those stairs.”


When prompted for more information, Swarbrick-Dries said Readers Theatre Plus noticed a lack of cooperation with the administration and that requested conversation resulted in a contentious argument.

Members of Readers Theatre estimate they’ve given at least $11,600 to the museum for rent and as donations since October 2007 .


Filling the deficit

Bassett said they’ve almost filled their schedule this year for the exhibit building on Cedar Street. It’s scheduled to reopen Feb. 4.


Priscilla Hudson, board vice-president, said they’ve closed the building since Christmas to install three new exhibits and remodel the Mastodon exhibit.


With the continuing financial pitfalls, Beckerman said the board of trustees investigated a number of options to fix the budget.


Some of the board’s options included selling the Dungeness Schoolhouse, closing the exhibit center and leasing it, or selling the empty property in front of the DeWitt Center that was anticipated to host a bigger museum in the future.


Ultimately, the board and a group of residents they brought in to discuss the MAC’s future felt those decisions wouldn’t work.


To counter that, the museum is increasing rent for the schoolhouse and the exhibit center while attempting to grow its programming.


Beckerman said the new educational series will constitute a good investment for the museum and has   a good return through its first events.


Bassett confirmed they stopped the museum’s annual MAC Night dinner auction because it didn’t make much money.


The board of trustees also will try a $3 entry fee for all museum goers 13 and older. Those 12 and younger are free, as are visitors on the First Friday Art Walk. They’ll also charge 30-percent commission to artists in their gallery rather than 25 percent.


Bassett said the museum’s suggested donation of $2 brought in about $100 a month, mostly from the First Friday Art Walk.


Renne Brock-Richmond, who organizes the art walk, said in California there are galleries that charge twice as much and that artists aren’t nonprofits.


“They developed a system so that it costs less with other groups,” she said. “(The costs) are not something that’s not reasonable.”


When questioned about the depleted endowment, Beckerman said the trend began before Bassett started with the MAC in 2010.


“In 2008, like many other museums, the support evaporated essentially. Our emphasis is to rebuild that,” Beckerman said. “I underestimated how hard it was to reestablish fundraising since the records were lost.”


Beckerman recruited Michael Friedline, a principal consultant out of Shoreline, to help him with the MAC.


Turning it around?

Friedline said the museum can’t turn this around in a year.


“There’s no way to get over the deficit into a break even in one year,” he said. “We need to make incremental improvements over two or three years. We’ve got one or two years to fix this museum or it goes out of business.”


Tentatively, the museum has set to reduce its expenses by about $3,000, with a $15,070 reduction in staffing.


The consultants are budgeted to make $29,000 this year with negotiations still to be made.


“Richard and I are only interested in making you much more money than it costs you to pay us,” Friedline said.


However, a few members spoke against this notion.


Nancy Hofman said when a nonprofit is struggling it either increases income or lowers expenses.


“When I look at the two big ones they are consulting and under staff,” she said. “We need some part-time people. I don’t believe (Second Chance) is losing money. I hate to see (it) go. It’s a service to the community.”


Rychlik suggested shutting the museum’s operations down entirely but Beckerman said annual carrying costs of $100,000, with staff consisting of about half of that, still continue.


The idea of shutting the schoolhouse down in the winter due to high fuel heating costs was proposed, too, but Bassett said they ruled that out.


“When the curtains are blowing and the windows are shut you have a problem,” he said.


Bassett said he brought in someone to appraise repairs and found the issue is with the windows, which would be expensive to replace.


“The schoolhouse is a labor of love for the museum,” Friedline said. “It was taken on by museum when no one else could take it on. If we can increase access to the schoolhouse, we can increase usership.”


To continue the museum, Friedline said it needs to reach out to more tourists, seek corporate sponsorships and continue to increase membership.


“Being on the Olympic Peninsula, there are a lot of less opportunities for corporate grants and donations so we’re trying for grants worth $5,000 or $10,000 from different entities with a connection to Sequim,” Friedline said.


Another connection that must happen, he said, is to continue recruitment of new and old members.


“Renewing membership has grown from 180 to 500 members in the last year,” Friedline said.


He also suggested seeking donations from Sequim residents for example through a utility bill donation and/or as a new cultural tax on construction. “Where it’s really going to come from is from the folks in the community,” Friedline said.


However, Bob Clark, a co-founder of the museum, wasn’t so sure of recruiting through the city.


“When we formed this museum, it was our steadfast purpose to be a museum on our own,” Clark said.

“Maybe it has to change. I’m the only person alive today that met at the garden club to discuss the idea of having a museum. The other six are all gone. Let’s try and do this on our own but that can change.”


An open board

What concerns Clark, he said, was that the board meetings were not open to members.


Earlier, Bassett confirmed board meetings weren’t open and that members could send in a request to attend.


“I feel if you really want to accomplish things, set at least 20 minutes to a half hour for public comments,” Clark said. “If they are member of the museum they should be able to make a request or listen to what’s being said or done.”


Friedline agreed. “You’re going to see a lot more communication with the board starting with a fundraiser in April,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to work. You have to trust your board or communicate with them.”


Friedline discouraged negative talk of the MAC, too. “If you go out and talk bad about the MAC, people are going to think the ship is going down,” he said. “We need to talk about need and not defeat. This meeting has been incredible to me. There’s been so much misinformation.”


Friedline acknowledged audience member’s frustrations with board communication.


Carol Ault, a MAC member, said that there needs to be a conscious effort to establish credibility between the board, director and the members.


“Over 60 percent of expenses are you guys and you’re asking us for a gigantic piece of trust,” she said. “First of all, we need to rebuild some credibility.”


After the meeting, Bassett said the biggest need he heard was more communication.


“People want to hear more details on operations,” Bassett said. “They want to hear how much money is coming in and out.”


Members did agree to put the MAC’s balance sheets and budget in the newsletter from now on. However, some members remain displeased.


“DJ has everyone wrapped around their finger,” Rychlik said. “(He) won’t let anyone on the board whose been born or raised here. We’d like to see an old-timer on the board.”


Regarding his critics, Bassett said some didn’t make him feel welcome when he first started. “I got that the first day I walked into the DeWitt Building in September 2010,” he said. “Anytime there’s a change, there’s all kinds of drama but they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t care at some level.”


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