The Ohio Art League turns 100 this year, a major milestone for any operation and particularly for an arts nonprofit. And the member organization is celebrating appropriately.
The Ohio Art League turns 100 this year, a major milestone for any operation and particularly for an arts nonprofit.
And the member organization, which represents about 600 artists and arts enthusiasts around the state and counts George Bellows and Roy Lichtenstein among its former members, is celebrating appropriately.
In its own gallery, a video slideshow displays the faces and works of many current members, and several OAL-related satellite exhibitions will run throughout the summer. Saturday brings the latest One Night fundraiser, in which the league turns raw space into a temporary home for a party and silent auction.
Despite the longevity and the festivities, OAL hasn't been immune from the financial problems affecting businesses and individuals of all kinds. The organization is currently operating at a deficit and in April, it eliminated the full-time position of executive director, last held by Sean Cooper.
Sitting amid the members' silent auction contributions to One Night in an otherwise empty retail space at Smith and High Place, Haley Boehning, president of OAL's board of directors, pointed out that the nonprofit has survived two World Wars, a Great Depression and countless recessions. The challenges it faces today result not just from external economics, but also from OAL's growth over the past decade.
Founded in 1909 by a group of recent graduates of the Columbus Art School (now CCAD), OAL didn't maintain a gallery for member exhibitions for most of its existence, and didn't open its space on the pricey High Street strip in the Short North until 1999. The executive director position wasn't added until 2002.
With capital expenses already cut to the bone over the past two years by reduced corporate, government and individual giving and fundraisers that didn't meet expectations, and with operations still in the red, the executive director was the next logical thing to go, according to Boehning.
"That decision was really hard, but the numbers don't lie," she said. "Spending money on an executive director just doesn't make sense for what we need now, and we're very lucky to have Eliza Jones, the membership and exhibitions coordinator. She keeps the lights on, the renewals going out, she manages shows."
As for the needs of the moment, Boehning said, "We need to rethink what we need in leadership, what the board will take on. OAL existed without any paid staff for 90-plus years. We have to tap into that institutional memory."
The board is currently collaborating with former OAL administrators on long-term strategies and building up its fundraising skills. Boehning admitted these have sometimes taken a back seat to other efforts to support member artists, such as the satellite shows this summer and a new, rotating exhibition space at Port Columbus.
Despite limited funds, however, the board was determined to see all of these through and is dedicated to maintaining an exhibition space for members.
"What could we not do?" Boehning said. "It's all valuable opportunities for us to make good on our mission."
Boehning's also been spending her Saturdays at OAL's gallery to directly address members' concerns, and spoke to many of them when they dropped off art for One Night.
"They said, 'We'll get through it,'" she recalled. "I feel a great responsibility to ensuring that the league meets its mission and stays viable. We have 600 members and they're here to help too."