ACE 2020

Snow covers the ground in January at Art Center East, La Grande. The nonprofit and community hub for arts is facing closing due to the coronavirus outbreak.

LA GRANDE — The COVID-19 crisis has Art Center East in La Grande facing a grim reality.

Sarah West, community outreach coordinator for the center, announced the nonprofit has furloughed all part-time staff, cut the executive director's hours in half and canceled nonessential business, all in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak forcing myriad closures throughout Union County and the state.

"Art Center East will be able to pay its bills through April 5," West said in a news release. "After that date, remaining staff will be furloughed, utilities cut off, and insurance cancelled. Shortly after, the Art Center East nonprofit would likely be dissolved, earmarked funds returned to funders, and the building vacated."

Studios remain open to rent and the gift shop is open for those who make an appointment. The center is looking into putting the store online and offering classes digitally as well in order to help pay operating and maintenance costs.

While ACE does receive some grant funding, a majority of the cost for operating the center, such as rent, utilities and payroll, comes from community participation in programs, memberships and donations. According to West, ACE has to raise $8,000 if it is to keep the doors open until the end of April.

The center is reaching out to national and state foundations for help — however, that may not be enough, and the funding may not come in time.

Art Center East far from alone

The Oregon Cultural Trust in a news release Friday announced Gov. Kate Brown directed the agency to explore opportunities to identify relief funding to address the devastating effect the COVID-19 health crisis is having on Oregon’s arts and cultural community.

Since the crisis began, nonprofit cultural organizations across the state have canceled thousands of performances, events and activities — including key fundraising events — and most have closed their doors to the public. As of March 24, according to Oregon Cultural Trust, 423 Oregon cultural organizations reported financial losses exceeding $8.6 million, and data still is coming in from more than 1,000 organizations.

Following consultation with the Governor’s Office, Business Oregon and statewide partners, including the Oregon Arts Commission, the Cultural Trust Board of Directors held an emergency meeting Saturday, March 21, and unanimously voted to use up to $10 million of its $29 million permanent fund to create an emergency relief funding program.

But the Cultural Trust statute does not contain a provision for emergency relief funding, so the program requires the approval of the Oregon Legislature.

The Cultural Trust is working on a concept for the Legislature, which is moving toward holding several special sessions starting soon to contend with fallout from the spread of the coronavirus. The Cultural Trust in the nerws release also reported it “will convene a committee of stakeholders to fully and quickly develop and implement an emergency funding program that is equitable and easy to use to expedite funding.”

The Legislature created the Oregon Cultural Trust permanent fund to protect Oregon’s cultural organizations for future generations, and that future, according to the trust's news release, is at dire risk.

Disaster relief loans also a possibility

The Eastern Oregon Film Festival also is feeling the effects of the crisis.

The 2020 festival is not until October, but the nonprofit works year-round to raise money for the weekend-long event. Festival director Chris Jennings said major setbacks include a halt of sponsor money and the loss of fundraising and engagement events. The festival is revamping the film adjudication process to allow for individual screenings and is pushing back the May regional touring campaign until later in the year.

Jennings said the festival is applying for emergency grant funding in the meantime.

Nonprofits can apply for some of the same disaster relief loans that are available for small businesses, many of which offer lower interest rates. The U.S. Small Business Association is offering $2 million to various organizations that apply for loans to help with operational costs. The amount of the loan varies for each business, and nonprofits have an interest rate of 2.75% as opposed to the 3.75% for small businesses.

Some nonprofits, such as Union County's Shelter From the Storm, receive federal funding to help with operational costs. This has helped ensure vital services stay available to the public while following the social distancing guidelines. Jamie Landa, the shelter's executive director, said the domestic abuse organization will remain open to the public with minor changes, relying on money community members have donated for emergency situations.

She said the office is minimally staffed Monday and Friday with advocates working from home Tuesday-Thursday to help keep clients and staff safe. The food bank is open with curbside service on Monday and Friday. When the building is staffed, the doors remain locked. To access services, including the food bank, people must call ahead to make an appointment.

"Fortunately we are set up for this in a way," Landa said. "We are still able to provide an essential service."

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