At a membership meeting held on April 29 in the Kay White Hall of Vashon Center for the Arts, Kevin Hoffberg, VCA’s executive director, provided a recap of the organization’s previous year as well as a preview of plans for its future.
The 75-minutes long, TED-style talk was attended by approximately 100 islanders.
The evening included a notable reveal for those interested in VCA’s finances — a walk-through of documents including profit-and-loss statements for the arts center from 2015 to 2018.
The documents, posted online at vashoncenterforthearts.org/financial-information, include the organization’s 2019 budget and a balance sheet as of Dec. 31, 2018. A narrative written by Hoffberg frames the document.
In other financial news of the evening, Hoffberg announced that VCA will likely soon embark on a campaign to raise an endowment. He also said that the organization’s annual auction will become a one-night affair, breaking VCA’s long tradition of holding the event on two nights.
“We have become very much about change, and I understand that’s not all that comfortable for some people, but that’s how we have rolled,” Hoffberg said.
New collaborations between VCA and other organizations were also highlighted. This summer, the Seattle Dance Collective and 5th Avenue Theatre’s Broadway Boot Camp will bring youth camps to VCA, Hoffberg said. VCA’s property will also be a site for a public art project led by Vashon-Maury Audubon Society, and a multi-faceted partnership with Vashon Nature Center was launched last month.
Hoffberg’s talk was accompanied by a Powerpoint presentation, with one of the first slides defining 2018 as a year that VCA focused on the need to “reboot, re-engage and re-invent.”
Hoffberg, a former board member, joined VCA’s staff in March 2018 after the brief tenure of VCA’s former executive director, Susan Warner. Her departure from VCA came weeks after a contentious town hall meeting, held at VCA in February 2018 and attended by almost 200 islanders. Speakers at the meeting expressed multiple grievances regarding VCA’s direction after it moved into its new, $20 million facility in 2016.
Hoffberg addressed the discord in a general way, saying that he has been heartened by the outpouring of support from many in the community.
“It’s a testimony to some of the good things we are doing here that so many people stepped forward and said, ‘I still believe that this community wants and deserves a strong, vibrant, important arts organization,’” Hoffberg said.
VCA’s Summer Arts Fest, launched by Hoffberg in 2018, included the work of 111 artists. Local artists also benefited from a significant expansion of VCA’s gallery space, he said.
Hoffberg spoke with pride about VCA’s employment of dozens of island artists to teach VCA’s arts education and dance classes, and conduct residencies in its Vashon Artists in Schools program. These programs combined, he said, reached more than 2,000 students last year.
In 2018, VCA also welcomed 16,400 audience members to 96 performances, which included more than a dozen events presented by such groups as Vashon Island Chorale and Vashon Opera.
VCA’s 2019 calendar of music concerts, he said, will be improved by the curatorial advice of local music personalities Pete Drodge, Debra Heesch, Elaine Summers and Martin Feveyear. Concerts by Earshot Jazz will also be presented.
Hoffberg also inveighed against societal forces he sees as a threat to VCA. One slide he showed compared the worldwide box office take of “Avengers: Endgame” to that of a recent piano concert at VCA. He also spoke about a phenomenon he called “FANG” — an acronym for Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google — that he said inhibited participation in community events.
The solution for VCA, he said, is a continued focus on its mission to “make people fall in love with the arts.”
Borrowing from a well-known quote by Steve Jobs, he said that through art, VCA is building a “bicycle for the mind.” He urged everyone at the meeting to get involved, attend as many performances as possible and donate to the organization.
Hoffberg’s tour through VCA’s finances painted a picture of how much this kind of support might be needed in the years to come.
According to Hoffberg, VCA received donations of approximately $1 million in 2018. In his narrative of VCA’s financial documents, he said that the organization will need to continue to raise in excess of that amount on a yearly basis.
VCA projects a budget deficit of almost $221,000 in 2019, up from a deficit of $13,000 in 2018 — a year in which VCA received $316,000 in various financial assets, according to the terms of Kay White’s estate. White, who contributed more than $10 million to VCA’s new building, died in 2017.
Hoffberg pointed to VCA’s strong cash position, saying VCA currently has approximately $1.6 million in cash and savings — in part because of the organization’s 2019 receipt of approximately $900,000 from a charitable remainder annuity trust in which VCA had been listed as the secondary beneficiary. The trust’s primary beneficiary, he told The Beachcomber later, died in 2018.
But Hoffberg also detailed a significant increase in expenses in the years between 2015 and 2019, almost all of which were associated with operating VCA’s larger campus.
Acknowledging that some islanders had voiced concern about this kind of rise in costs during the building’s capital campaign, Hoffberg showed a slide that said, “You were right. And none of this is surprising.”
He said other arts organizations in the region who had built buildings at the same time as VCA were experiencing similar financial issues.
“The deficits were planned, and we have capital,” he said. “It takes a little while to figure this out.”
Since opening its new campus, the line item for compensation at VCA has almost doubled, from approximately $567,500 in 2015 to $1.1 million in 2019. The larger building has necessitated a larger staff, he said. Two full- time staff positions were recently eliminated as a cost-saving measure, he added.
Hoffberg said he has also looked everywhere he can for savings, and indeed, the 2019 budget shows VCA’s expenses projected to decrease in several categories, but most significantly in the area of marketing.
On the plus side, income from ticket sales and contributed income from sponsorships and private contributions have increased dramatically since the opening of VCA’s new campus.
The financial documents show that income from tuition and grants has remained consistent since 2015.
They also show that income from VCA’s sale of art and income from memberships have both decreased significantly since the move to the new arts campus. Hoffberg attributed the decrease in art sales to the closure of VCA’s art consignment outlet, the Heron’s Nest, in early 2018. The drop in membership income, he said, reflects both an actual drop in memberships as well as an accounting change to characterize any sums in excess of a core membership as a “donation.”
In an email exchange, Hoffberg clarified that in 2017, VCA had 820 members. But by the end of 2018, that number had fallen to about 550.
Still, Hoffberg said he is hopeful for the future and believes that membership is on the rise. He said that multiple income streams and support from the community could make the difference for VCA.
“With help from an endowment, with help from the county and the state, and help from all of you, I think we can get there,” Hoffberg told the audience, who received his talk warmly.
The meeting was not without friction, however. At the start of the question and answer period following Hoffberg’s presentation, former VCA employee Stephen Jeong rose to accuse the organization of acting wrongfully in the termination of his employment in 2017. He said that his firing occurred after he organized the staff to talk about financial mismanagement and poor leadership decisions during Susan Warner’s tenure. Jeong said that five days after he had met with Warner and then-deputy director Angela Gist to discuss these matters, he was fired. He also said that VCA has subsequently spent thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to fight his claims.
After Hoffberg told Jeong that the meeting was not the time or place to discuss these issues, a few audience members chimed in with cries of “not now.” Jeong sat down only after his microphone was turned off, he told The Beachcomber immediately after the meeting.
But the matter wasn’t over — a later encounter between Jeong and Hoffberg’s wife, Eadwynne Hoffberg, resulted in an accusation of assault made by Eadwynne Hoffberg to a King County sheriff’s deputy. According to a sheriff’s office spokesperson, Eadwynne Hoffberg told the deputy that Jeong had pushed her twice after she approached him at VCA after the meeting and expressed her displeasure at what he had said. Jeong, in a message exchange with The Beachcomber, gave a different account, saying Eadwynne Hoffberg had touched him first in an aggressive way.
The sheriff’s office spokesperson said that as of press time, a detective had not yet obtained a statement from Jeong, and no charges had been filed.
During the question-and-answer session, VCA donor Chai Mann asked if VCA’s cash holdings of $1.6 million were in an account that produced income.
“We’re not prepared to take market risk with those dollars right now,” Hoffberg replied. “We are managing them conservatively.”
Cathy Sarkowsky, an island artist and philanthropist, asked Hoffberg to explain how development works in the organization.
“The staff is large, but I don’t see with clarity a development director,” she said. “If you’re going to be initiating an endowment next year, who will be handling that?”
She added that she would not feel comfortable making a large donation to an endowment campaign without that kind of professional at the helm.
Hoffberg replied that VCA had recently hired an associate executive director to help him handle development as well as other executive duties. VCA did not have the means currently, he said, to hire a development director.
Another audience member asked if VCA was exploring all available avenues to receive corporate sponsorships, grants and additional legacies.
Hoffberg responded that VCA’s staff was pursuing every possible lead in terms of fundraising.
The meeting ended with two more attendees thanking Hoffberg for his service, and a performance by island singer/songwriter Kat Eggleston.
A transcript and video of the meeting will be be posted soon, said Hoffberg.