I’m responding to Deanna Isaacs’s report, “Angling for an Uprising,” in The Business [November 24]. I’m one of the staff people mentioned by Isaacs who has left the Chicago Artists Coalition (CAC) since the arrival of new executive director Olga Stefan. Like Robert Kameczura and Barton Faist, I have concerns with Stefan’s management of the organization.
The CAC’s mission, as a nonprofit service organization, is to help artists succeed in their careers. However, it seems that since Stefan has taken over the CAC, the organization has become focused on how to make money off of its artist members rather than how to help the artists make money to support
themselves. A couple of months after she began, Stefan raised membership dues to $50, without consulting the board. She has since raised program fees from those offered free or at minimal fees to members up to $20 or more. Even the admission to CAC’s annual holiday party has gone up from $5 to $20. For the first time this year artists who exhibited in the annual Chicago Art Open had to either pay $20 to attend the opening reception benefit or volunteer for it to avoid the cost. This was after they had already paid a $50 fee to be in the show. In the previous seven years exhibiting artists attended the opening reception for free.
Regarding the CAC’s Web site, members used to be charged $100 per year to have the Web master design their individual pages, which sometimes included scanning in slides of artwork. Since the site has been revamped, the CAC continues to charge $100 per year for members just to “rent” space on the site, while they do all the work of designing their pages themselves. At this point, participation on the site for members needs to become more affordable, either inclusive with membership dues or at a nominal fee above it.
In the meantime, CAC no longer offers medical insurance to its members, which was one of the key services that many of its self-employed members relied upon. If all a member gets for $50 is a subscription to the monthly newspaper and discounts at art supply and framing shops, with everything else an extra fee tacked on, it does not seem like a very good value. The CAC needs a better business plan for survival than to just keep raising costs to its members.
Finally, Georgia Makris, Margaret Gross, and I are not the only staff people to leave the CAC since Stefan’s arrival in July 2005. The bookkeeper who replaced Makris left after five months. Then the first director hired for the 2006 Chicago Art Open resigned, and her replacement quit as well. I hope that those board and general members who are disappointed with the CAC will vocalize their concerns in order to help the organization find its way back to its mission.
Former staff editor of the Chicago Artists Coalition’s newspaper
Deanna Isaacs replies:
Stefan says board members agreed to the increase in dues, which went up just $2. They also approved raising program fees to cover more of the costs and to increase the number of offerings, which have tripled. Decisions about the Art Open were made by a committee; participating artists who volunteered any time at the event got into the benefit free; others were charged half price ($10). The fee for the online gallery on the new Web site is the same as it was for the old site, with proceeds now going to CAC rather than a host company. The board directed Stefan to make fundamental changes in the way membership and bookkeeping were handled, and CAC stopped offering group health insurance for members six years ago. “Except for the Web site, everything I’ve done was part of CAC’s strategic plan, which was created long before I was hired,” Stefan says. Board members I spoke with concur.