Sunday, February 25, 2018
Opinion

An open letter to the Dunedin Fine Art Center

As a resident of Dunedin for most years since 1978, I have had the privilege of seeing this town develop from a forgettable citrus town to a remarkable story of creativity and vision. I have also had the distinct privilege of serving as president of the Dunedin Fine Art Center for the past two years after being a student there as a child.

It is with great sadness that I see the Art Center becoming a tool for short term political points – and worse, projected in a bad light to our community. Not only is this effort short sighted, I fear much of the information is intentionally misrepresented to draw conclusions that are not accurate for one of the most admired public-private partnerships over the last four decades.

Here are the facts based on our most recent numbers:

• The Dunedin Fine Art Center is not a museum. It is a learning center open to all.

• No child or adult has ever been turned away for lack of funds or an inability to pay for classes.

• Last year, we reached over 2,700 adult students and over 1,500 summer camp students.

• We taught over 48,000 contact hours for adults and 45,000 hours for summer camp students (over 90,000 student contact hours in all).

• We partnered with Just Imagine and Goodwill to teach classes for the developmentally disabled for more than 35 weeks of training each year.

• Host more than 585 children from school bus trips.

• Partner with dozens of other organizations and events throughout the year.

• Have given a place for more than 200 school-aged children to proudly display their work.

This partnership began with a patch of sand donated to the City of Dunedin and the vision of the Junior League more than 40-years ago. It took years to raise enough money to open the facility at 1,800 square feet in 1974. Since that time, the center has grown to its current size, more than 23,600 square feet.

The importance of the arts in Tampa Bay is growing yearly and DFAC has seen a steady increase in enrollment as other arts enthusiasts move to Tampa Bay or local residents retire and wish to explore their artistic side through classroom training. Children's offerings are expanding. New partnerships with area schools including the Pinellas County school system foster creative pursuits. DFAC has supplemented and in some cases supplanted other arts programs that used to be part of a student's curriculum. In short, the need is there and we are struggling to stay current with demand. DFAC is currently the largest nonacademic arts teaching facility in Tampa Bay.

Aside from the two previous city matches to state grants, every dollar to expand the city-owned building has been done with private funds. Let me be clear: The DFAC and patrons raise the funds, build the expansion, and then gifts the completed building back to the city.

In 2003, a unanimous city council believed the DFAC provided valuable services and business to Dunedin and its residents. They encouraged us to expand and agreed to provide funds for the benefits derived by the city. In 2008 when the city finances looked grim, this council reduced our agreed upon annual funding. They reduced the funding for several subsequent years until now it is 58 percent of the original agreed upon amount.

While the city was cutting services and reducing costs, the DFAC took advantage of low building costs and added a $1.9 million addition to the city building. We also increased our members, students and annual budget, providing more visitors, jobs and benefits to the community.

We now have the opportunity to receive a grant that was applied for more than three years ago. This is an opportunity to leverage $1.3 million of state and private funds with a $500,000 investment by the city for a building the city owns. DFAC has pledged to raise the most of all, $800,000, privately.

Following this investment, the city will own a building of over 30,600 square feet that will include $3.7 million of renovations gifted to them since 2011 alone. If you figured the whole building was only worth $5 million to the city, their total investment in that building would come to about 12 percent. I am confused as to how such leverage of private and outside funding combined with donated land can ever be a bad thing in creating something so good for our community?

This is exactly the kind of leverage good partnerships seek. Please do not let those seeking short term personal gains distract from the real and positive good experienced for the last 40 years — and from the opportunity to enhance the gem that is the Dunedin Fine Art Center and bring increased value to the city for years to come.

J. Patrick Donoghue is the immediate past president of the Dunedin Fine Art Center.

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