PAT COPELAND | SUN
Laura McGeary releases art that was entered in
the last Art League show to one of the artists.
HOLMES BEACH – Fearing they would be blamed for the demise of the AMI Art League, three board members and two former directors chose to speak out last week.
The Art League closed on May 11, when Executive Director Christina Reginelli put a sign on the door stating “Closed until further notice,” and left the organization because she was not being paid. Seven members of the 10-member board of directors resigned the same week following an emergency meeting.
“We care very much about the Art League,” Reginelli stressed. “It was heartbreaking for them to have to do that. It was not an easy decision for any of us.”
Then Laura McGeary, president of the group’s board of directors, said it was not closed, but “on vacation” and claimed there were “financial difficulties.”
However, board members said that they were unaware of any financial issues until the emergency meeting.
“The monthly financial reports indicated we had money, then abruptly we had no money,” Reginelli explained. “We want to know where the money went. We asked her and didn’t get a good answer.”
“Under Laura’s watch there was no accounting for the money. As a result of the negligence, seven board members and I chose to resign.”
Board member Ellen Aquilina concurred.
“When we looked at the monthly reports, they showed there was money, then there was no money,” Aquilina said. “I would like to know where the money went. Why didn’t she tell the board there was a problem?”
“I agree with everything Christina and Ellen said,” board member Karen Hasler said. “Laura has not taken any responsibility for this financial disaster. She hasn’t been held accountable for anything.”
Board member Leslie Robbins concurred and added, “Why didn’t she alert the board when the funds were so low that bills could not be paid, especially the director’s salary and the rent, before there was no money at all and they were in arrears?”
Where the money went
McGeary and Vice President Deeana Atkinson were the signatories on the checks. Reginelli had no responsibility for the money and did not sign checks.
Former Festival Director Colin Bissett, who resigned after the group’s annual Springfest Festival of Fine Arts and Crafts, said, “When I found out the president of the board was also the treasurer, bookkeeper and signer of checks, I had questions, but the figures were never forthcoming. The financial responsibility was weak to put it mildly.”
When asked where the money went, McGeary responded, “Our expenses exceed our income. There was not a negative balance at the meeting, but we didn’t have enough to continue. It was really a surprise for the money to have run out quicker than expected.”
McGeary has asked for donations from the public of $25, $50 and $100 or more by June 16 to reopen the organization. She said she would need about $10,000.
“We have to raise a certain amount before the end of June to pay rent and a former employee,” McGeary said. “And we need to get the festivals started again because that’s our primary source of income.”
However, board members were wary of the plea.
“Who is going to make a donation to an organization without some proof that it is a legitimate organization?” Bissett asked.
“Before anyone sends any money to the Art League, the members are owed an explanation as to why it closed and where the money went,” Hasler said.
“I want to support the arts and the arts community on the Island,” Reginelli added. “If people want to donate to the Art League, I urge them to understand what their donation is doing and where it’s going.”
McGeary said members of the organization found out last year that it had lost its 501c3 non-profit designation, however, no one in the organization has been able to explain how that happened.
“We got a letter from the IRS that said it was our third notice,” McGeary recalled. “I had to start at ground zero to get it reinstated. We filed whatever the IRS required. The tax exempt is crucial to us getting back on our feet.”
She said not only is the process of reinstatement costly, but “losing the 501c3 didn’t allow us to do the fundraising to support us and write grants.”
Other issues she said contributed to the financial difficulties are the economic situation and rising costs.
“If you have more activity, you need volunteers to take over some administrative duties and reduce costs,” she said.
McGeary said the IRS recognizes the organization as a non-profit because it is in the process of having that status reinstated, but donors cannot receive a tax deduction yet. She said she has already received some donations and many calls of support.
The board should have been more responsive to the problems, McGeary said and noted, “There’s all that talk out there. Why didn’t they say, ‘We have a problem; let’s try and fix it.’ We need to move forward and fix what needs to be fixed and make it better.”
The Sun has requested copies of the Art League’s financial records, but had not received them at press time.