Astoria Visual Arts (AVA), a local artist non-profit, approached the Astoria City Council with a proposal to sign on to a request to the National Endowment for the Arts(NEA) that would have provided up to $200,000 in a one-for-one matching grant the Astoria organization said they would apply to multiple programs designed to support and enhance the local arts community. The Council declined on a three to two vote to become the primary governmental body participating in the grant request which, according to City Manager Paul Benoit, means AVA can't apply.
Larry Taylor, AVA President, appeared before the council Thursday afternoon at a special meeting called by Mayor Van Dusen primarily to consider the last minute request to make the mid-January application deadline if the council had approved. Taylor explained that AVA became aware of the grant in mid-November and started the process of gathering community support from artists, property owners, and community leaders while formulating the programs that might be developed if the grant were approved. He said that part of the money would be used to pay for rental of work and living space for artists, would establish an 'Artist In Residence" program that might attract accomplished artists from outside the area to come to Astoria to work, and establish what he termed the "Astoria Commons" which he explained would be a program that would provide rental for performance space for artists who otherwise could not afford the fees.
Both Ward Two Councilor Peter Roscoe and incoming Ward Two councilor Drew Herzig expressed the same concern about the process that would be used to award the benefit of the grant. Mayor Van Dusen said he was "stuck" on the same issue and didn't seem satisfied with the explanation that a committee of artists would make the decision about who might qualify for free work and living space. City Councilor Karen Mellin said it sounded very much like the city would be going into the housing business by siging on as a partner. Mellin also said that she had been assured that there was no representation from the Performing Arts Center on AVA's board which means to her that the PAC has no input on the 'Astoria Commons" aspect of the grant. AVA member Cindy Price told the council that AVA would consider providing up to $10,000 each year of the three year grant to anyone who would want to use the PAC for the commons program. Mellin said she would not support the city's involvement because she felt the process was rushed, the city has plenty on it's plate already and, she said, by approving support for the grant it might establish an unintended city council goal ahead of the annual goal-setting process. Mellin had told the council at the previous meeting when the issue was discussed for the first time that she was concerned about the match the grant would require and how that fundraising might affect other local fundraising efforts for projects the council already supports.
The final vote on the proposal was three to two with Mayor Van Dusen, Mellin and, Warr voting against with Roscoe and LaMear voting in favor. LaMear commented earlier that she is supportive of the arts and has seen it develop since the mid-90's into a significant community and that she would support the effort.