Norwich Arts Center seeking funds, members

Norwich - Over the past nearly 30 years, the Norwich Arts Center has seen many ups and downs in the cycles of funding, finances and activities, and 2014 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for all three categories, arts center officials said.

The NAC board has launched an aggressive membership drive and fundraising campaign to ease financial pressures of building expenses and a balloon mortgage payment due soon.

NAC Acting President Thom Keaney said the membership drive started two weeks ago, with "a more serious tone than usual," seeking renewals from active and recently expired members. The board also will reach out to patrons who have attended NAC events and Norwich Community Cinema film shows to seek new members or donations.

They also will reach out to the general public, including a plan to revamp the NAC website to take online memberships.

"The first several responses have been very pleasing," Keaney said. "There are people out there being very generous."

What prompted the membership drive was a letter from Bank of America in March stating the balloon payment is due. NAC can keep paying the monthly mortgage bill of $1,829 for the next 12 months, but then the balloon payment for the remainder of the $175,550 mortgage is due.

The arts center has struggled financially in recent years, starting with the loss of annual grants from the city of Norwich. The recession and the bad winter have hurt attendance.

Keaney said the board entered into the new performance season with "a bit of trepidation." The group did not want to build up hope if the agency faced the prospect of closing its doors.

"This is our dilemma. We don't want to be the next YMCA," he said, referring to the Main Street YMCA that closed in April 2009.

Monthly revenues lately have fallen $2,500 short of the nearly $4,500 in monthly expenses.

Keaney and long-time board member Peter Leibert plan to approach other banks for possible refinancing and met recently with local legislators to apply for state bond money.

NAC was instrumental in launching Norwich's First Fridays arts nights, which feature concerts, gallery openings and discounts at local restaurants for patrons who visit participating venues.

This Friday, the gallery will open its annual juried photo exhibit downstairs, while upstairs, the Americana jug band "Washboard Slim & the Bluelights" will perform at 8 p.m. The gallery show is free, while tickets for the concert are $20.

A new second Thursday open mic night is free, with officials hoping it brings new faces to the theater. On May 18, poets who have written poems inspired by the photo exhibit will read their works. A $5 donation is requested for that show.

NAC officials also are working with outside groups more in the hopes of boosting theater rental income. On May 30 and 31, Three Rivers Community College will present its spring play, "A stage Adaptation of The Iliad" at the theater. Artreach's Second Step Players also perform at the theater.

"We've invested so much time into this," Leibert said of the ongoing effort to keep NAC afloat. "We have nothing to apologize for."

c.bessette@theday.com

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