For the many islanders who attended the event on April 23 at the Marco Island Center for the Arts, the occasion was one of celebration, at achieving a major milestone in its Project Rescue, tinged with sadness at the departure of its Executive Director, Chris Neal.
Those gathered had good cause to celebrate, as the all-volunteer organization had reached its “Phase I” goal of reducing the Art League’s $100,000 debt to zero. Ken Stroud who is heading up the second phase of Project Rescue, praised Fund-Raising Advisor Tim Rice for his role in coordinating the fund-raising effort of Phase I and for his success in implementing programs that have kept the Art League doors open.
Stroud, along with the rest of the Board of Directors, including new members, David Caruso and John Dougherty, have been “looking at every part of the organization’s strengths and challenges” since January, with the goal of developing a new business model for the League, to be implemented in October, 2010. They have been holding meetings with members of the various committees involved, inviting all to give feedback. Stroud said, “These are open meetings where nothing is taboo.”
“We want to keep moving forward. With the economy, this is an issue. We don’t only want to promote the arts, but to serve the people of this community.” Stroud aims to continue the “positive response we’ve hadfrom the community.” “We want to have a reserve. This is a philanthropic organization, but we can’t borrow money.”
Farewell, Chris Neal
Not so much a celebration of things to come as a celebration of achievements accomplished, was the fond farewell to a much-appreciated Executive Director, Chris Neal. Board of Directors, Art League Members, Teachers, Students, Volunteers, even City Council Members, and various lovers of art attended the event to bid farewell and express their gratitude to Neal, who is leaving Marco Island to return, with husband Charlie, to Michigan to be closer to her family.
Board Director Keith Dameron paid tribute to the outgoing Executive Director and invited the following people come forward to honor her: Artist Inez Hudson thanked Neal and presented her with a gift from the Art League members; Elaine Hamilton of the Arts Council presented Neal with an award of recognition for her contribution to the arts; Marco Island City Council member Jerry Gibson presented her with a City Proclamation, honoring Neal and listing all that she had done for the arts on Marco; and County Commissioner Donna Fiala also honored Neal in recognition of her contributions with a proclamation from the Arts Council of Collier County, and declared April 23 “Chris Neal Day.”
Volunteers donated food and Publix donated a cake. Evident was the enthusiasm for the organization thatall involved displayed at the event. Many came to show their respect and fondness for Chris Neal and to say “goodbye.”
Neal had worked at an art gallery in Michigan for seven years before moving to Marco in 2001. When the successful capital campaign led to the completion of the new Art League building in 2002, Neal was recruited to fill the position of Executive Director. Neal is proud of the strides she and the other Art League members have made in her six-plus years. The biggest, she says, is the introduction of the Center’s Youth Programs. Also, she adds “getting the message to the public that we are an open art center—that we are open to the public!” Neal lists, among other improvements, the gallery spaces for exhibits, the Gift Shop, and studios in which students can be educated not only in the visual arts, but in music and the literary arts also.
“This has been a great tenure for me because art is something I am passionate about,” explained Neal. With the birth of Neal’s first grand-baby back in Michigan, Neal feels this is finally “a time when there is something even more important to me.” Her only wish is that some of the focus given her as she leaves were given to the arts and “all they are doing here.”
Maury Dailey will head the search committee to replace Chris Neal.