DESPITE DARK WINTER, CLUBS MAKE SUMMER PLANS
by Kirby Lindsay
This column originally appeared in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook, and related publications, on April 1, 2009.
Over the tumultuous winter, reports about the Fremont Arts Council (FAC) often sounded like a set-up for a bad April Fool’s Day joke. Instead, with the spring ambitious plans have sprung up for their trademark Solstice Parade at Noon on June 20, maintaining the fun and frivolity one expects after thirty years of experience in the FAC. On April 4, they officially kick-off parade building with a Carnival of the Sun celebration.
In June, Lakewood/Seward Park Community Club board member, Tom Acker, hopes to implement outreach, classes and events based on spring planning. This Club, which began in 1910, has also survived a tough, dark winter, yet their meeting on April 9 is expected to look towards an exciting second century.
What Went Wrong
“Tom is actually going for the cure,” praised Dolores Ranhofer, past president of Lakewood/Seward Park. She led the board as it ran out of steam at the end of 2008. Even she had to admit, “I wanted to go on to other things.”
“The neighborhood has been in transition for years,” Acker reported, and as tired and burnt-out volunteers had fallen away, the board that remained “didn’t have people who had time. A board of seven people can’t do it all.” By January 2009, the board considered disbanding and selling their aging club house building rather than struggle to maintain it.
Such exhaustion had also overcome some FAC leadership in the last few years. At their 2009 board elections, held in October 2008, they sought younger, more energetic volunteers.
Nine brave souls stepped in and, according to Barbara Lueke, a long-time FAC volunteer and co-creator of the Solstice Parade, they showed admirable boldness. They dug into the administration of the FAC, addressed budget shortfalls and unearthed overlooked paperwork – including unpaid IRS withholding.
In retrospect, Lueke admitted, the 2009 board took many strong, and sometimes unpopular, positions. As Jessica Randall, another stalwart volunteer and past board member, pointed out, “our membership has a voice.” Leslie Zenz, a member of that 2009 board, recently noted that while a core of member support exists, “there was a lack of faith,” as board members struggled with tough decisions amidst complaints.
When the under-experienced board faced unprecedented snowfall, they chose to cancel the annual FAC Winter Feast scheduled for December 21. This, along with many other factors, led to a mass resignation of the remaining board members on January 8, 2009, except one.
A Call For Help
Zenz, the only remaining board member and now Interim President, by January 9 had gathered a high-quality mix of FAC regulars – experienced, past board members of extended history and proven track records – to form an Interim Board.
“If there is a problem in the neighborhood, you tend to get a lot of participation,” Ranhofer observed, “otherwise everyone thinks everything is fine, even if it isn’t.” After word got out about the Lakewood/Seward Park Board considering disbanding, “things have changed dramatically,” Ranhofer explained.
Board members asked Acker for help, based on his deep roots in the neighborhood. He has stepped in, but he explained, “what’s going to make it successful are the people, not any one person.” Nobody can carry a whole organization, or should. “The first meeting had 60 people,” Acker reported, “these are people deeply imbedded in the community.” Group discussions and planning mean, according to Acker, “the rebirth of the community.”
“The community has answered the call,” Ranhofer praised. In fact, all the board members who once thought they’d have to close the doors have remained to help open them wider. “I am involved,” Ranhofer admitted, “but I am not the president.” Simply asking for help made a difference, she allowed, “I don’t think anyone was really aware of how desperate we were.”
At the FAC, Lueke observed, “some of these events take a lot of volunteer time,” about the Feast, Luminata and the Parade. “They are in alignment with our mission,” she said, and it’s been “a good time to take an overview.”
“We’re reshuffling the deck,” Randall explained. They’ve also had to make hard decisions, such as laying off their paid Executive Director. “We want to get down to the good parts,” Lueke explained. As Randall observed, “we don’t want the Arts Council to go away.”
Every organization may face an examination. As Acker admitted, this was “not unique to our neighborhood.” Ultimately, for Ranhofer, “it is very gratifying to know how much this organization means to the people here.”
For all those interested in helping keep the Lakewood/Seward Park Community Club strong, Acker and Ranhofer welcome all volunteers to attend a monthly meeting, held on the second Thursday of each month (the next one on April 9) at 7p.m. at the club house at 4916 South Angeline Street.
For information on the Fremont Arts Council event on April 4, or to participate in the 2009 Solstice Parade, contact 206/547-7440 or fremontartscouncil.org. The Interim Board welcomes all volunteers to get involved, but as one new board member, Jerry Smith, pointed out, the FAC “will always be a little funky.”
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.