- Mary Martin Harper
It happens around this time every year, The Artware Affair, a gala benefit for the Ink People Center for the Arts that, like many benefits, offers an elegant dinner with entertainment, capped by the proverbial fundraising auction.
The theme for this year's affair, "Elephants and Tigers: Bollywood!" takes things to India on the art front and with the food. The music and dancing are about as international as you can get. The annual event has always been the Ink People's main fundraiser. In recent years, as funding for the arts from the state dried up and many foundations turned their focus elsewhere, pulling in money from the local community has become increasingly important. This year it's even more crucial. Why? Let's call it an earthquake aftershock.
Following the 6.5 quake that hit Humboldt in January, Ink People offices, studios and classrooms behind the Eureka Municipal Auditorium were red-tagged. "It was because of the plaster," explained Ink People co-founder and Executive Director Libby Maynard. "It's plaster and lathe construction from 1902. A lot of plaster fell because there had been leaks that weakened it -- it was delicate."
The part of the building that has housed the Ink People Center since 1988 was built as an addition to the original Winship School, a three-story Victorian schoolhouse built in the 1880s that once stood where the Muni is now. "They tore down the original schoolhouse in 1926 because they found during earthquake inspections that the foundation was full of dry-rot," said Maynard. "They took the school down and left the standalone sitting there. In the ’30s the WPA [Works Project Administration] built the Muni, designing it to attach to the freestanding Winship annex as the greenrooms for the auditorium."
The city owns the building and they're making plans for repair. A daunting initial estimate of half a million dollars for the work has been lowered since they've learned that asbestos is not part of the problem, but budgeting problems and bureaucratic hoops remain. California Emergency Management Agency (Cal-EMA) is in line to pay 75 percent of the bill, but that still leaves a quarter of the cost uncovered. Maynard has been talking with the city's redevelopment agency. "It's not finalized, but I'm pretty sure they will take care of it," she said, although it's still uncertain when repairs might commence. "In the meantime we're in the Carson Block Building."
The Northern California Indian Development Council has been generously loaning office space to the Ink People and to the teen MARZ Project, but that will likely end in July, again connected to earthquake factors. "Their building is about to undergo its own retrofit and renovation, something they've been working towards for 20 years," said Maynard, and that means the Ink People may soon be homeless again. "It's kind of discombobulating," Maynard added.
One interim plan that's been floated is to set up shop in Jefferson Elementary School. As reported in a story here a month ago ("Schoolyard Scrap" Feb. 18) Eureka city officials have been negotiating for purchase of the former school site from Eureka City Schools. They'd lined up a number of potential tenants, only to be blindsided by an early February announcement of a tentative deal to sell the site to College of the Redwoods. Then on March 5, following a public outcry, CR President Jeff Marsee announced that that deal was off.
"Now that CR is going to be pulling out, it looks like the city will be able to step back in and continue with their purchase plan," said Maynard. When (or if) the deal goes through, Maynard hopes that the Ink People could serve as a placeholder group at the school while other entities sort out their projects.
Maynard said the NCIDC's loan of space for administrative offices and MARZ after school programs has been a godsend, and rooms have been made available for a few of the Ink People's many art classes, but the organization is definitely feeling a pinch from lost income.
The Muni annex included printing presses, darkrooms, looms for weavers, gallery space, studio rental spaces -- all helped keep money trickling in. As time passes, new homes have been found for some things -- for example the looms were recently relocated to a portable at Winship School -- but in general the organization is hurting from earthquake aftershock.
Thankfully, there's been no interruption of the multifaceted DreamMaker Project. Under Maynard's leadership, the Ink People Center has been serving as an umbrella organization for dozens of fledgling arts-related nonprofits -- 54 by last count -- providing them with the all-important 501(c)(3) status and helping with grant funding, among other things.
"We talk to people all the time about their dreams and visions for a better world," said Maynard, downplaying her considerable contribution to keeping the local arts world vibrant. "I attribute it all to the community for coming up with these great visions."
Maynard emphasized that there aren't many groups that do what the Ink People do with the DreamMaker Project. There are plenty of arts organizations that serve as what the nonprofit world calls "fiscal receivers," allowing others to use their 501(c)(3) status. That's just the beginning for Maynard and company. "We also educate the leaders on how to make their projects work, how be a successful nonprofit: Things like, how do you do a budget, personnel management, grant writing, all those things that are the nuts and bolts to having good organization."
Those 54 groups under DreamMaker -- that's just what's happening now. Over 100 local organizations have been fostered by the Ink People over the years. Some have come and gone; some took off on their own. Among those currently active: Rural Burl Mural Bureau, Fire Arts Center, Coffee Opp, Placebo, Blue Ox Youth Radio for Humboldt Bay, North Star Quest Camp, Sanctuary Stage, 2 Left Feet, Synapsis, Empire Squared, Redwood Coast Writers' Center, Steelhead Special, North Coast Storytellers, Institute of Native Knowledge, Hmong Community of the Northcoast, and the brand new Native Women's Collective. Suffice to say, the Inkers' reach is far and wide.
"We're committed to continuing, and everyone in the community has been wonderful and supportive," said Maynard regarding the post-earthquake situation. "It's been awesome, but the truth is, we were already on the edge financially and now we're a little bit over the edge. So, Artware is more important than ever."
What's in store for the Affair? There's an Indian-themed dinner made by Ms. M's Catering with samosas and flat breads, Southern Indian vegetable curry, chicken tikka and more, plus decadent desserts from the 13th Annual Dessert As Art competition (I'll be one of the judges).
The silent and live auctions include the ever-popular hand-painted platters, paintings and other art objects donated by dozens of local artists, among them, Jim McVicker, Terry Oats, Kathy O'Leary, Michael East, Michael Guerriero, Joyce Jonté, Duane Flatmo, Kati Texas, Peggy Dickinson, and even head Inker Libby Maynard.
Extending the Bollywood theme they'll have henna painting. There's dancing by Shoshanna's Ya Habibi Dance Company, Javanese and Balinese music by Gamelan Sekar Sequoia and the wild global sounds of Bandemonium, a pan-Humboldt brass band that's yet another DreamMaker Project.
The Artware Affair, Elephants and Tigers: Bollywood! takes place from 5-10 p.m. on Saturday, March 20, at the Wharfinger Building, 1 Marina Way, off Waterfront Dr. in Eureka. Tickets are $40; a table for eight can be had for $280. Reserve tickets or learn more by calling the Ink People at 442-8413 or visiting artware.inkpeople.org.