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Roeder Home arts program faces cuts

By On

Sheri Ward has contributed this guest article. Sheri was the editor of the Whatcom Independent weekly newspaper.
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Use of the Roeder Home by the arts and music community may soon be a thing of the past.

The house, under the purview of the Whatcom County Parks Department, is slated for conversion so that part of its space will accommodate parks department administrative functions. Portions of the home will still be available for rental by the public, but at rates that are expected to be much higher than current ones. This year’s Holiday Arts and Crafts Show – the 36th annual show – may well be the last. Additionally, the parks department plans to change the administration of classes offered at the Roeder Home so that the artists and instructors rent space from the parks department rather than receiving program support as they currently do.

Tours of the historic home, however, will still be available.

This change has been proposed by Parks Director Mike McFarlane as part of a belt-tightening exercise. McFarlane stated that there would be $153,000 in annual savings if county council approves his proposal. The cost savings primarily stems from cutting the positions of two people who coordinate the arts programs. McFarlane also cited concerns about ADA accessibility, a railing height that may not meet code, and a desire for the administrative offices to be closer to the courthouse and other county offices. The department’s administrative office is currently located on the Mt. Baker Hwy.

Many in the arts and music community feel that the change would effectively close the home to their use. Rental rates have not been finalized, but the general sense in the artistic community is that fees will increase substantially.

Over the years, the Roeder Home has been an incubator for local artists and musicians. It was the original home of Allied Arts and the Kulshan Chorus, and continues to be the meeting place of the Home Made Music Society, which fosters local musical talent. Similarly, it helps novices become acquainted with weaving, quilting, pottery, jewelry making, and painting. All of that helps feed the creative community.

The vagueness of what future rates may be and the absence of any constructive attempts to resolve funding issues has exacerbated the concern that many groups and individual instructors feel.

An example of the lack of an attempt to have a dialog with the artistic community is the proposed termination of the annual Holiday Arts and Craft Show. Among his reasons for ending this show, McFarlane stated that the show does not cover costs. The show brings in an estimated $50,000 in revenue to the artists. The parks department administers this juried show and pays for its promotion. Artist who submit work are changed $10 for entering and an additional 25 percent of revenue for items that sell. So there is $12,500-plus in the kitty to cover costs.

Flip Breskin, who is active in the local music scene, has been trying to raise awareness of the changes proposed for the home. In an email she said, “($50,000 is) a huge part of the local income stream for local artists to just casually throw away. Our big question is, ‘Why is there no public discussion and problem-solving about the Roeder Home?’”

McFarlane said, in response to this concern, “Nobody has called us up offering to pay more.”

It would seem that (a) there might be ways to run the holiday show for less than $12,500, and (b) some dialog between the parks department and the artists would have been in order. Expecting someone to call up and offer to “pay more” is no substitute for initializing a dialog with a group that has been at the core of cultural support in this community.

In an email to Roeder Home supporters, Breskin said, “Events like the Holiday Arts & Crafts Sale, Home Made Music Society concerts and music circles, and Whatcom In Bloom are county parks programs that could not happen without lots of donated time by dedicated and knowledgeable community members: the programs have been subsidized by both the county and by the community. The dollars that the county spends on these programs are only a fraction of the real cost of putting them on. The way this is currently being handled – let alone the decision itself – will make that volunteer energy go away. The community will lose not only the programs, but long-term relationships and a spirit of collaboration which have taken decades to build.”

And a final note that may prove risky in the future: the home was donated by the Keyes family, with the explicit provision in the deed that it is exclusively for the use and enjoyment of the public for park purposes, as a museum, an historical site or other similar public use. If this provision were not met, the Roeder Home ownership would revert to the Keyes family. The proposed changes could be the first step on a slippery slope that would lead to loss of the property to the county.

If you’re concerned about this proposed change, the public input currently consists of (a) letters, emails and phone calls to county council members, and (b) the public hearing for the county’s 2009-2010 budget. The public hearing will likely be at one of the next regular council meetings, Nov. 25 or Dec. 9. The agendas for these have yet to be made available, but are expected to be on-line the Wednesday afternoon prior to each of those meeting times, Nov. 19 and Dec. 3 respectively.

The Bellingham City Council – although it has no authority in this decision – voted unanimously in favor of protecting the Roeder Home, and will be sending a letter to county council to that effect.

Links for further info:

About Guest Writer

Citizen Journalist • Member since Jun 15, 2008

Guest Writer is for over 100 articles by individuals who are not writers or contributors. Their actual name and brief info is listed at the top or bottom of their articles.

Comments by Readers

g.h. kirsch

Nov 19, 2008

It is wonderful to hear this voice again.  Oh that it would become a regular feature of NW Citizen.

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Tom Pratum

Nov 19, 2008

Thank you for the very informative article. While I have gotten the action alerts from Flip, I didn’t know about the deed restriction part.

The County Council, just yesterday, finished going through a laundry list of changes to the administration’s proposed budget. I don’t recall seeing this in there - I wonder if anyone tried to get one or more council members to propose re-inserting the funding?

If funding is to be restored, something else will need to be cut. It appears the council’s proposed budget already draws the general fund balance to a bare minimum. Undoubtedly there are other county expenditures that could be cut, but I am guessing that already the county administration is preparing to “circle the wagons” in defense of cutting other administrative funding…..

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