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The future of the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts in Fridley is uncertain as it faces possible loss of county funding come December.

The Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts in Fridley will continue receiving county funding through the end of this year, but after that the future is uncertain.

The Anoka County Board Parks Committee voted June 1 to give the arts center the second half of its funding for the year. The committee considered not renewing the 2021 purchase-of-service agreement, set to expire June 30, due to budgetary concerns. The parks operating budget has a $1.7 million deficit for 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parks Director Jeff Perry said.

The committee decided last December to renew the service agreement for only six months, compared to the usual one year, with the intention to look at the agreement again in June before it expired.

The BLCA gets $50,000 annually from the parks budget. The purchase-of-service agreement has been in place since 1988.

Partially funding the arts center is unique for the county, Perry said, which is one of the reasons renewing the purchase agreement was up for debate. There are other entities that provide services on behalf of the community that the county does not support financially, he said.

“I just wanted to communicate that to the policymakers, that the playing field is not level or equitable to other service providers [in the county],” Perry said.

County funding goes toward employee salaries, Banfill-Locke Executive Director Abby Kosberg said. The rest of the funding comes from fundraising.

The center is also at risk of losing its historic county-owned host building in Fridley at year’s end. The building requires maintenance estimated around $1.5 million. The parks department intends to pursue grant funding to cover it.

Even if the arts center is defunded and kicked out of the building come December, Kosberg said Banfill-Locke has no intention of dissolving.

Kosberg was relieved that the June 1 vote gave her more than a month to figure out a Plan B, but she’s still concerned about next year.

Kosberg will be looking for another location to serve the community. She’s hoping to stay in Fridley, given the city’s continued support of the arts center through this process, she said.

“I’m excited about figuring out a transition that could help us better serve in places that we’re falling short right now,” Kosberg said.

The decision on whether to defund or kick out Banfill-Locke is a conversation elected officials will need to have throughout this year, Perry said.

Kosberg is considering looking toward grants and the city of Fridley for other funding options, should the art center lose its purchase-of-service agreement this winter.

“The fact of the matter is we are the only arts organization in this area,” she said. “You have to go up to Rumriver Art Center, the next closest one, to serve this community. So I want to make sure we’re not leaving anyone hanging. I think that requires thought and planning and time on both sides to make sure that we would not harm our community through this process.”

Providing community art opportunities

In a typical year, Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts provides art-related services, classes and exhibits to the Anoka County community and beyond.

The center hosts 100-200 classes a year taught by local artists and teachers in various art mediums, Kosberg said.

In the summer, BLCA hosts summer camps for kids and teens to learn about art and artists.

Throughout the year the center has 14 different art exhibitions.

“We’ve been described in the past as the organization that does the most with the least, because we have a tiny budget and we put on a lot of things,” she said.

Last year, due to the pandemic, the arts center made a quite a few changes to its services and schedule, Kosberg said.

BLCA created 3-D walk-through tours of exhibitions that were posted online so those interested could still see the artwork.

Kosberg said she spent a lot of last year looking internally to improve the way Banfill-Locke functions so she could ensure the center is best suited to the needs of the public.

Banfill-Locke puts on a reading series and other events throughout the year, such as their Summer Soirée fundraiser, which is Saturday, June 26, at Manomin Park, 6666 East River Road, in Fridley.

The Soirée will feature music, food vendors and an outdoor exhibition called “Sounds of Summer.” Tickets can be purchased at Banfill-Locke.org.

“I think that what we raise at that event will be what’s going to carry us over no matter what happens come Jan. 1,” Kosberg said.

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