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Concert fundraiser critical for Evansville Art Center

Musician Tom Sellin. (Contributed)1 / 7
Craig Torgerson of Acoustic Sound. (Contributed)2 / 7
The Blue Wolf Duo of Shirley and Jerry Spanhanks. (Contributed)3 / 7
Peggy Weise. (Contributed)4 / 7
Tom Sellin ahd Shari Wallace (Contributed)5 / 7
Singer/songwriter Patty Kakac. (Contributed)6 / 7
Orlo Thompson and Neal Nelson. (Contributed)7 / 7

In danger of not being able to pay its utilities for the end of 2018, the Evansville Art Center is launching a concert fundraiser in an attempt to shore up its finances.

It is hosting the Harvest Moon Music Fest 2018 on Sunday, Oct. 14, featuring more than five hours of local musicians delivering folk, original, country, bluegrass and rock 'n roll music.

Evansville Arts Coalition president director Karen Howell said the center got into a pickle because she recruited and advertised the center's 2018 bands before finding out that the group would not get grants for any of the six acts.

"I knew when I did it I was taking a risk," she said. "I thought there was always a chance that I wouldn't get everything funded, but I didn't think I was in a position where I wouldn't get anything funded."

The Lake Region Arts Council had given her $1,000 for public outreach this year, so she recruited bands from outside the area in hopes of attracting new concert-goers. She also advertised the season's lineup.

Then she learned the arts council chose to fund other groups instead. When Howell told the musicians she wouldn't have money to pay them, most reduced their fees. The only one who didn't, she said, was already at a rock-bottom price. Howell dipped into her organization's slim pocketbook to pay their reduced rates from money intended for utilities and other operating expenses.

Howell hopes the concert will raise at least $2,000. Even better, she said, would be to bring in about $5,000-$6,000 to replenish the art center's bank account.

Historical setting

The Evansville Art Center operates out of the second-oldest building still standing in downtown Evansville, population 612. The building once housed a drugstore and later a restaurant.

The concert space is small, what Howell calls "intimate," where performers can connect with the audience. Artwork lines the walls, and the space retains its original tin ceiling and maple floors. Concert-goers are encouraged to bring snacks to share, so intermissions take on the feel of a community potluck.

Over the years, audience members have chipped in enough money for an 88-key Yamaha piano and an excellent sound system, Howell said.

The center's fixed costs are about $406 per month, she said, and it operates on less than $25,000 a year.

"We appreciate the support from everyone in the community and the surrounding area," she said. "I have been president since 2010 and this is the first time we have had a shortage of funds."

Like many nonprofits, the art center relies on multiple sources of funding, including corporate and individual memberships. However, corporate contributions have fallen away as businesses have closed, Howell said.

She doesn't fault the Lake Region Arts Council for not funding her grants. The center has been generous in the past. Once, bricks fell off the side of the 106-year-old building, and the council helped with the $16,500 repair. The council has also helped the center get new lighting and a handicapped-accessible bathroom.

Grant requests vary

Maxine Adams, executive director of the Lake Region Arts Council, said the grant world can be an unstable one. The amount of money the council receives varies from year to year, and so do the number of requests for that money.

In the spring grant round of 2017, for instance, the council received $20,735 from the Legislature to disburse to arts groups in nine counties. It was a competitive year, with arts groups seeking twice that amount, yet the Evansville Art Center received some funding.

This spring, the council received $18,385 to distribute, and even though art group requests only totaled $24,411, the Evansville Art Center was not funded.

"In this particular grant round, there were grants that ranked higher than Evansville," Adams said. "They did not rank high enough until the money ran out and I don't know as that's ever happened for Evansville before."

Evansville got trumped by bigger-ticket items elsewhere in the region, including an old-time square dance, a percussion and mass steelband event, and blacksmithing and bladesmithing demonstrations.

Grants are an important source of funding, but "not the most reliable source," Adams said.

"We love Evansville," she said. "We know how important it is in that area and we know they do good work.

"We want to support them anyway we can. ... We are always interested in the health and vitality of organizations in this area."

If you go

WHAT: Harvest Moon Music Fest

WHEN: Sunday, Oct. 14

WHERE: Railroad & 2nd Event Center, Evansville

COST: At the door, $25 per couple, $15 per person and $5 under age 12.

LINEUP: 2 p.m. Tom Sellin & Shari Wallace

2:30 p.m. Craig Torgerson

3 p.m. Patty Kakac

3:30 p.m. Peggy Weise & Jewett Benson

4 p.m. Tuesday Nightclub with Terry Kennedy

4:30 p.m. Banjo Jaque (Rasmussen)

5 p.m. Greg Lehrke

5:30 p.m. Tim Ray

6 p.m. Blue Wolf Duo (Shirley & Jerry Spanhanks)

6:30 p.m. Orlo Thompson & Neal Nelson

7 p.m. Anthony Miltich & David Stoddard