Fort Mill Times

Art Mill to stay open for 2009

The Art Mill will get its reprieve.

And, it will keep its doors open - at least through 2009.

The Fort Mill Town Council on Saturday voted to grant thousands of dollars to the Fort Mill Art Guild to help the group pay the rent on the Main Street building that houses the Art Mill.

Last week, art guild President Marcia Buike asked the town council to consider giving the Art Mill between $5,000 and $9,000. Without the money she said, the Art Mill, which serves as a gallery and meeting place and hosts classes taught by local artists, would have to close at the end of June.

The council, despite the objections of two members, voted to give the Fort Mill Art Guild $1,000 a month starting in July to keep the Art Mill open. That contribution will end in December.

"I'm speechless," a shocked Buike said when reached Saturday. "I'm so thrilled. This is very exciting. This town council has taken a stand. They have done something foreign to them. I want them to know I will work even harder to justify their faith in the Art Mill."

Without the town's financial assistance, Buike said, the Art Mill would have had to close its doors on June 30. The council's decision paves the way for Buike to continue her efforts to revamp downtown Fort Mill through the arts.

"Downtown needs the Art Mill here," she said. "It draws people to the area. People will come for the art because it touches their soul."

The town's contribution will generate $6,000 for the Art Mill. However, there's still a problem, Buike said.

"I still have to come up with $500 per month," she said. "We're hoping that we will reach that."

Starting with "The Chair-ity," a guild fundraiser that debuted Saturday. During the event, 22 specialty chairs designed and decorated by local artists were auctioned off. The guild raised $2,000 from that effort, Buike said.

That leaves the guild with a shortfall of $1,000. Buike is in the early stages of planning a French-themed retreat for last Friday of June. During that event, people will dress in French fashion and artists will demo their work. And Buike hopes that will be enough to overcome the shortfall.

But Councilman Waddell Gibson found fault with providing assistance to the Art Mill.

"I can't see paying taxpayers' money on somebody else's rent," Gibson said before the council rendered its decision. "I just can't support it."

Councilman Larry Huntley also voted against giving the Art Guild the grant.

Helping the Art Mill was less about giving money and more about enhancing the downtown area,Town Manager David Hudspeth said.

"You're doing it to promote downtown," he said. "She (Buike) just doesn't want to sign that lease not having the money to go forward."

Town leaders have taken a proactive stance with recent beautification projects and other pedestrian-friendly enhancements. The goal is to increase foot traffic in the downtown area and ultimately attract new residents and businesses.

That goal also matches the Art Mill's vision. Buike opened the Art Mill in February with financial assistance from her husband, Jim Buike, and local arts supporter Jim Harper.

"It walks hand-in-hand with what we're trying to do downtown," Mayor Danny Funderburk said of the Art Mill. "It just makes sense that we have an art group."

Last week, the town council received an e-mail from Fort Mill resident and Art Guild member Jennifer Schulz of Fort Mill that suggested that council should not help.

"I think the town council feels pressured to please everyone," Schulz said. "Voluntary solutions for just about anything, including the art guild, would be more fair, especially in this economy."

Asking taxpayers to foot the guild's bill is a form of theft, she said.

"There should be a choice," she said. "I know the Art Guild would prefer to be sustainable. Individual donations would work better toward the goal.

In her email, Schulz notes that "all non-profits are suffering. I would prefer that the guild use voluntary donations exclusively over choosing to loot the taxpayers."

To offset the shortfall, Schulz proposed that guild's 75 members contribute $100, allowing the group to raise $6,000.

"She did sent a Paypal payment of $200," Buike said of Schultz.

That payment came in more than a little over a week ago, Buike said. Since then another couple has pledged $200 and two other members have promised $50 each.

But Buike hasn't instructed those members to write their checks yet, she said.

"I wanted to wait to see what council had to say," Buike said. "My thought was why have them write a check and we didn't sign our lease. I would have to give them back."

The council's vote signals a short-term solution for the Art Mill; However, council members also brainstormed other ways the guild could generate funds.

"We can do some [fund] matching and try to help them," Councilman Ken Starnes said. "Maybe they haven't exhausted all their resources."

Other options for the Art Guild include reaching out to the community through fundraisers, town leaders suggested.

For now, the town's contribution will keep the guild's doors open.

And bring people to downtown Fort Mill for art, Buike said.