Arts Garage remains in space with new leaders

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By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
Delray Beach’s Arts Garage will stay put with new leadership.
Delray commissioners agreed to allow the nonprofit performing arts center to keep its space in the city’s Old School Square Parking Garage on a month-to-month basis until September.
But, the decisions will be made without the president, CEO and self-proclaimed “czarina” of the Arts Garage. Alyona Ushe has resigned and the board accepted her resignation. She led the Arts Garage for five years taking it from just an idea to a vibrant cultural center.
“Launching Arts Garage and catapulting it to the success story it has become, has been exceptionally rewarding,” she said in a statement.
She announced that she will focus her talents on Pompano Beach’s arts venues full time. She has been splitting her time managing the Arts Garage, Pompano’s amphitheater and Pompano’s cultural center, which is under construction. It is scheduled to open in 2017.
The venue will be led under the co-direction of Keith Garsson as director of operations and Daniel Schwartz as director of finance.
Success story
The Arts Garage and the Creative City Collaborative became one with Ushe as the leader. The venue offers theater performances, concerts and educational classes.
Recently, the inside has been renovated and there is a gallery and a black box for smaller, more intimate performances.
Fans rave about the shows and talent the place attracts.
How it all started
In 2006, Delray commissioners created the Creative City Collaborative. The group emerged from a study, which outlined the important of the arts as an economic driver for revitalization.
The group remained dormant for a while, but it was ultimately charged with occupying the Arts Garage space, which is owned by the city.
It was the middle of the economic downtown and the space remained dormant. Ushe helped transform the empty space into a successful performing arts venue.
Arts Garage was a pilot program that a city agency, the Community Redevelopment Agency, wanted to test out while it planned the buildout of a warehouse the agency owns on Northeast Third Street. That building is currently called “The Cube” and the agency still plans to open an arts incubator there.
Controversy
In 2014, Ushe expanded the collaborative into Pompano Beach causing angst in Delray. The group was created by Delray commissioners to focus solely on arts and culture in the city of Delray.
Some commissioners expressed concerns about the expansion into Pompano because Ushe hadn’t asked permission from the city and because they believed it would cause direct competition.
The Arts Garage became the center of attention again in December when Ushe announced the garage planned to offer co-working spaces to start-ups. Commissioners chastised the Arts Garage for not coming to the city to seek permission or input. The topic hasn’t been discussed since.
Mayor Cary Glickstein called the instances a “blindsiding” to the city.
Financial concern
Delray commissioners went out on a limb in 2013 when it allowed the Arts Garage 2.5 years to raise $2.5 million to purchase its space from the city.
That’s because the city had an offer on the table to sell the space to a law firm for $2.5 million. The topic became a political whirlwind, but keeping the arts in the cultural hub of the city prevailed.
Many called the arrangement a “sweetheart” deal for the Arts Garage because of their below-market rent. But commissioners committed to keeping the space dedicated to the arts.
Ushe stood before commissioners and told them the Arts Garage would be able to purchase the space. But as time went on, it became evident the group wouldn’t be able to raise the funds. Requests from commissioners about fundraising efforts often went ignored.
The Arts Garage finally wrote a letter to the city stating it wouldn’t be able to close on the deal to buy the space. The date for the closing was scheduled for March.
Alarming audit
The Arts Garage also took heat from the city and the CRA after its first audit was recently completed.
The CRA provides funding that goes toward arts education and theater programming. But how that money is spent is closely monitored.
When an audit indicated several imbalances in financial records, the agency board withheld payment until the issues were cleared up.
Between the audit and issues with the purchase and sale agreement, commissioners agreed to let the Arts Garage stay put if changes were made.
Commissioners said they want to see a diversified board, programming that attracts youths citywide, quarterly financial updates and a change in management.
Board members updated commissioners that they are working on implementing the requested changes.
Ultimately, the city would like to see the Arts Garage thrive on its own without as much support from taxpayer dollars.