Unless the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida (VAC) raises a “significant level of donations” within the next two weeks, it will be forced to suspend operations for an indefinite period starting May 31, 2009. Having somewhat to do with the national economic crisis, the Visual Arts Center has seen reductions in membership, Museum gate receipts, and in the number of students enrolling in its various educational programs. Despite operating with minimal staff, they are still operating at a deficit.
Over the past few months the VAC Board had vigorously pursued $60,000 in emergency funding from the Bay County Commission to complement funding already provided by the City of Panama City. Unfortunately, the Commission felt overly constrained by the estimated reduction in upcoming property tax revenues and could not address the request at this time.
The VAC, in conjunction with the Downtown Improvement Board (DIB), just completed the first Downtown Festival of the Arts, a successor event to the former Spring Festival of the Arts. Over sixty artists from throughout the Southeast exhibited and sold their work in a juried competition that awarded $6,000 in prizes. The VAC had also contracted for the U.S. premier of a new exhibit, “In Search of Norman Rockwell’s America” which had been planned for an eight week run beginning in mid-June. In recent years the Museum’s summer exhibitions targeted tourism, like the highly successful Titanic Artifact exhibition held in 2007 that saw more than 25,000 visitors. The Rockwell exhibit was expected to bring similar crowds. The economic impact of cancelling the exhibit is estimated at $400,000.
Originally the City Hall, the VAC credits its beginnings to 17 artists who formed an association in 1955 for the purpose of exhibiting and promoting the visual arts in Bay County. In 1986 the Panama City Art Association and the Downtown Improvement Board received a $700,000 grant to renovate the Old Panama City City Hall, police station and jail and transformed it into permanent gallery space. The Visual Arts Center offers the only museum experience in the area and serves a seven county region.
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