Out North board describe plans for resurrecting alternative art venue

Mike Dunham

Out North's new board of directors announced plans to reopen its alternative art venue, which shut down due to financial problems on July 29.

The decision was made public Saturday at a community meeting.

"It was heartbreaking when we had to make the decision to close down last summer," said Cindy Drinkwater, the only member of the old board who remains.

New board president Ryan Anderson said the group was in the process "of getting our books in order." With the help of a consultant, they hope to create a steady revenue stream to keep the doors open. That will involve seeking additional grant sources and renting out the building at Bragaw and DeBarr to performance groups and classes.

"A business plan and sustainable path forward is what we're looking for," said new board member Shelly Wozniak. "We're a skeleton crew."

The nonprofit Out North organization that operates the building has no paid staff and has had none since last summer. Anderson said the tax-exempt building incurs $2,500 in utility bills each month.

Although they're still in the process of trying to account for outstanding bills and payments, board members said their best guess concerning finances at the moment were $11,000 in debts and $5,000 in available funds. They're also expecting to raise $3,500 by renting the facility in February.

From its establishment in the 1980s, the organization has presented outside-the-mainstream performance art, a mix of work by local authors, dancers and actors and performers from the lower 48. Productions often had overt agendas with a number of shows dealing with gay and lesbian issues, minorities or class politics.

Out North also had its own radio station, KONR 106.1-FM, which supplied alternative programming. It had ceased operating shortly after the building was closed and resumed broadcasting on Dec. 13. But, as Saturday's meeting was underway, the station received word from the Federal Communications Commission they would have to go off the air immediately due to paperwork which was filed too late. The last program carried by the station was an interview with National Security Agency leaker-whistleblower Edward Snowden.

An advisory group to help manage the station is one of several committees Out North is seeking to form by recruiting volunteers, said board member Indra Arriaga.

Anderson said the concrete block building, originally a community library, is in good shape except for the roof. "We have leaking problems," he said. "One of the things we'll have to decide is whether to patch it for the short term or do a complete tear-off."

But he plans to have new programming in place within the next two months and to be producing "new and original work in six months."

Some renters are already making use of the building. On Saturday night after the meeting, a screening of the movie "The Wisdom Tree" took place. A group preparing to present a class in image mapping was setting up in one of the rooms. Arriaga said an art show was planned for March.

A rate sheet for renting the facility was not available, but Arriaga said it would be coming soon and would be "as affordable as possible."

The board hopes to rent the building for seven weeks, then make it available to eight artists "to do anything they want for one week" said board member Ruby Kennell, aka Ruby Jones. The first such "Eighth Week" event should take place at the end of April.

Anderson, the new board president, also said members would present community updates on the status of Out North's revitalization every eight weeks.

More information will be made available online at outnorth.org. Potential volunteers and donors can email outnorth@gmail.com.

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.