Intermedia Arts supporters turn out for town hall

Meeting on financial crisis packs auditorium

THE WEDGE — In 35 years as a community arts organization, Intermedia Arts has made a lot of friends.

That was apparent Dec. 19, when dozens of artists, patrons and community members packed Intermedia Arts’ theater for a town hall meeting on the nonprofit’s financial crisis. A financial shortfall stemming from cutbacks in foundation support led Intermedia Arts to lay off most of its staff, close its galleries and cut some programming in December.

"We need you to help us now," Jim Farstad, chairman of the organization’s board of directors, told a standing room-only audience that approached 200 people.

 "Just a few months ago we saw the revenue from our foundation and corporate giving either drop significantly or, in other cases, enter a delay phase," Farstad explained. "… Our cash flow was dramatically impacted in a very short time."

Intermedia Arts plans to make up some of that shortfall by increasing individual donations. Farstad asked everyone in the audience to donate $10 to Intermedia Arts and then find 10 others who would do the same.

The organization was seeking groups to rent its theater and galleries, and supporters were encouraged to hold benefits on behalf of Intermedia Arts. Through its website (www.intermediaarts.org), the organization encouraged dialogue about other fundraising or volunteer opportunities.

The situation may have seemed dire, but the mood of the crowd was defiant. When local rap group Ill Chemistry took the stage to open the meeting, nearly the entire crowd joined MC Desdamona in chanting: "I don’t stop. I don’t quit."

Many of those who showed up at the town hall were eager to help.

Chamath Perera of St. Paul, a regular at Intermedia Arts events, said he came to learn more about the situation and offer his skills as a professional fundraiser.

"[Intermedia Arts] brings people from diverse artistic backgrounds — different media, different cultures — together," Perara said. "I think the ideas of social justice and social change and how they intersect with the arts [are] important, and Intermedia has been a leader in that."

Maryan Yusefzadeh of Minneapolis, a musician who has performed at Intermedia Arts, expressed concern about the potential loss of the community art space.

"Who’s going to be able to make use of this space and what are they going to do with it?" Yusefzadeh asked. "I don’t want another store that’s going to go out of business in six months."

Staff at Intermedia Arts said they have a strategic plan in place that will keep the organization in the neighborhood, as long as it can ride out its current funding crisis.

Developed earlier this year, the strategic plan recognized that the organization was too reliant on large grants. It laid out a strategy to increase revenues from individual donations and facility rental over the next three to five years.

The current crisis shortened that timeline dramatically. To survive, Intermedia Arts must carry out the plan within three to five months, Farstad said.

It was unclear how the dozens of programs sponsored or hosted by Intermedia Arts would be affected. For now, programs that are fully funded or do not rely on building facilities will continue, said Marlina Gonzalez, one of the staff members who was laid-off but continues to work with the organization.

Updates on individual programs were posted on the Intermedia Arts website.

Intermedia Arts was founded in 1973 as University Community Video. It began as a group of University of Minnesota student activists and community members using emerging video technology to explore social issues. The name changed to Intermedia Arts in the 1980s, as the organization expanded beyond video to include other artistic disciplines. Intermedia Arts has a strong presence in The Wedge and surrounding neighborhoods through annual events like the Art Car Parade and 55408, an exhibition featuring artists from the organization’s zip code. It also hosts B-Girl Be, an annual celebration of women in hip-hop.

Aspiring performance artists participate in its mentorship and performance program, Naked Stages. And the building’s walls are a blank canvas for local muralists and aspiring graffiti artists.

The organization even received a bit of national attention last year when their building served as a hub for the UnConvention arts event during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.