The Best Part about the Washington Pavilion will be no longer starting July 1st.

Photo from my art reception at the VAC ‘In Passing’

I have often felt the Visual Arts Center providing FREE exhibits is what made the Pavilion unique. Oh, sure, you betcha, museums across the country charge a fee to their visual arts center, but what is different about the Pavilion is our demographics. The Pavilion has gotten a reputation over the years for not catering to the whole community, and this latest move proves it. I have often argued that leaving the VAC free would attract people who normally wouldn’t ‘look at art’ or attend the Pavilion and the FREE gallery as an asset to our community. While I have often disagreed with the facility (now more then ever with the recent departure of the Development Director) I have supported the Arts Night exhibit and fundraiser in the past and have had an individual exhibit and have been in several joint exhibits at the VAC. The Pavilion really is closing the last remaining door to the general public as a whole with this move.

But there is also other questions that need to be answered;

Nan Baker, interim executive director of the Sioux Falls Arts Council, said she is worried that the arts center board had lost sight of the purpose of the group’s two largest fundraisers — the Sidewalk Arts Festival and the Arts Nights. She said their purpose was to ensure the arts center would remain free.

“When we go out and solicit donations, we do so on the premise that (the Visual Arts Center) is free and open to the public,” Baker said. “If that’s not occurring, we need to have the conversation about what those fundraisers are for.”

Nan could not have said it better. What are the fundraisers, the grants and individual donations for? Because we know one thing, there isn’t a lot of ‘work related’ activity going on behind the big purple walls . . . ahem.

And the VAC director, who couldn’t direct a class of 5-year olds on how to open a can of play dough had this to say;

“We’re ready to do it; we’re ready to take on the next level,” Merhib said. “It’s not about money; it’s about putting value to the art.”

Taking what to the ‘next level’? Banning all ‘regular folk’ from patronizing your facility? And that is really the irony in all this. Imagine someone coming to your facility for the first time, walking in and enjoying the FREE gallery, then deciding to take in a movie or buy a ticket to a concert.

The Pavilion is really missing the big picture on this one, but sadly, no surprise here.


#1 pathloss on 06.22.13 at 10:29 am

I like to throw ideas out and look for comment. The Washington Bazillion was never profit oriented. Munson wanted to preserve his alma mater high school. He’s gone. How about a TIF oriented toward a MLM operation. Upstairs and meeting rooms could be offices or classrooms. The stage/theater could be for rallies or shareholder gatherings. Maybe a regional Mary Kay or JP Morgan thing. The property becomes taxable and think of the airport, motel, & restaurant revenue. The granite building would symbolize strength.

#2 hornguy on 06.22.13 at 11:36 am

In a perfect world, we’d have philanthropists supporting everything and those in attendance would never have to pay.

Absent that, if we stipulate that the VAC isn’t covering its costs through a pair of community fundraisers, how would you prefer to see the Pavilion bridge any gap that might exist between VAC-specific revenue and VAC-specific costs?

I mean, we have some people in this town who complain about the Pavilion’s subsidy, and then others in town who complain when the Pavilion tries to generate revenue. In some instances, people try to hold both positions simultaneously. Hardly an enviable position to be in if you’re running the place since any time you do anything you’re going to aggravate someone.

Is it okay to charge for the Science Center but not the VAC? If so, why? If not, how does the Pavilion pay for the Science Center? More fundraisers?

Short of sitting around and waiting for rich people to pay for everything for us (a preferred community development strategy by many of the city’s naysayers), how does one sustain and grow what we have in our community?

As an artist, I’d be curious to know what you think.

#3 scott on 06.22.13 at 2:00 pm

Although as lame as the science center is, it should be free.

#4 hornguy on 06.22.13 at 2:02 pm

Haha. Don’t disagree with that at all, but that’s not really my point.

#5 Detroit Lewis on 06.23.13 at 8:06 pm

Ryan – Any comments from you are a little bias. Not? The SD Symphony, who you work for has gotten one of the sweetest non-profit deals of any in SF from the Pavilion. I have seen the contract. It is easy for you to say, charge, charge, charge away, yet the Pavilion doesn’t even come close to charging the SDS what they charge other promoters and non-profits in town. Do I disapprove of the SDS’s deal? Not at all, the Pavilion should give the same to everyone else, and they might see full seats more often. Which I think should be the Pavilion’s ultimate goal, because #1 – their current strategy isn’t making the place money, #2 – what do they have to lose? Their reputation with the working class? At this point they really don’t have any other options.

As for the VAC, when the quality of the product and services goes to pot, then they begin charging for it, which ironically drives off more visitors. This will harm attendance more then anything.

One of the purposes of the VAC being ‘FREE’ was to bring in donations. The FREE admission to the VAC was also a part of the deal with the taxpayers to build the facility. Now that the Pavilion’s construction is paid off (which it never really will be, because the city owns the building and is directly responsible). They feel they can negate on this promise, even though they are still receiving over a million+ in subsidy every year from the city alone (Never mind the Federal & State grants they receive).

How did they come back on that promise? By charging admission to the ‘big shows’ which is kinda comical in a way. Their most affordable show, sponsored by tobacco giant, Phillip Morris, about midwestern artists ‘Eden on the Prairie(?)’ was the best they have had so far, that was about 9 years ago. The Suess, Rockwell and Warhol shows lacked originals, and featured either mostly prints or giclee’s. Why would I pay an admission to see ‘prints’ of the Cat in the Hat when I can see them for free in the children’s play area at the local clinic?

I have a feeling the PAV has been wanting to charge for a long time, and now that there development director has mysteriously disappeared, it seems they will need all the money they can get, to pay for the sins of the past, of even the sins that are still going on.

Pretty soon, no one will even remember that the VAC was once free admission. Think of the Frog in boiling water.

It is unfortunate that no one in local government pays any attention to promises made to the taxpayers in exchange for their support. So as far as the City is concerned, that promise never happened. 

So, the Pavilion Management must now feel they can get away with charging admission to the VAC. And Pavilion Management will do whatever they think they can to get away with it.

#6 Detroit Lewis on 06.23.13 at 8:12 pm

“The move to charge for admission comes after a visit from a consulting firm that questioned the Visual Arts Center’s free admission policy. David Merhib, director of the arts center, said the idea of charging fees was discussed by the advisory board for several months before the decision was made.”

The advisory board is a joke of a tea & crumpets bridge club. The Pavilion management (Jon Loos) make all of the decisions. Don’t be fooled by some ‘advisory’ group. It is kind of like the SOS’s advisory board, no power. 

Ironically, Nan Baker used to sit on the advisory board, got roped into stealing SEAC from the Horse Barn, now has the organization back in her lap after it has left the Pavilion. Nan’s last name should be familiar to you. Her family runs First National Bank, long time supporters of the Pavilion. If she is out saying negative things about how the Pavilion is running the VAC, that’s not a good thing, especially for the Pavilion’s donation rolls.

The way Pavilion Management sees it, it isn’t a VAC budget or a Science Center Budget or a Performing Art Budget but a budget where they can move around the figures to make the Pavilion’s books look best. Don’t believe me? Just look at all of the annual reports from year one. It clearly shows the direction the Arts Center and Performing Arts Center has gone and the tail spin the Science Center has been in, even before they opened the doors. This has been going on since day one, mostly because the Science Center has been such a flop (though it was predicted it would be a money maker for the Pavilion-I’m sure the consultant that said that is hiding). I know that in the past the city and even some city councilors have asked that the budgets be split between the entities, but the Pavilion wouldn’t have it. They wanted to keep up the appearance that the Cafe and Science Center were doing ‘just fine’ when in fact they have been bleeding the facility all along. I have often suggested that we close the Science Center, rent it out for corporate events, etc, and start running regular movies and light shows at the Cinedome.

As Larry Toll says, it is all about the money (and the power). I have watched a facility that had a ton of potential turn into a running joke amongst the working class and young artists in our community. People like Toll, talk about the ‘cultural wealth’ the Pavilion supplies to the community, I can’t say I disagree with that but when are you going to start sharing that wealth to ‘all of us’ for all that this community gives towards the Pavilion? We fund it, whether we like it or not through entertainment taxes, we also pay for the maintenance through our CIP.

The only solution, I have said all along, is to fire the current management company, board members, etc, etc, clean house and start fresh. Just waiting for a mayor and city council brave enough to rip that bandaid off once and for all. And I wouldn’t go about it by warning them it is going to happen . . . what’s that saying about carrying a big stick?

#7 Detroit Lewis on 06.23.13 at 8:13 pm

I just realized, I got all ‘Craig’ on you 🙂

#8 Lemming on 06.24.13 at 12:36 am

Who goes to this cave any longer? The funeral home around the block has more business then this joint. Looking at the ‘upcoming events’ is just plain depressing. Unless you are up for a rockin’ nite with the SD Symphony – you’re hosed.

#9 anominous on 06.24.13 at 1:02 am

Maybe they could start charging admission to the SDSO’s free saturday afternoon rehearsals. That would really keep the room classed up! No more playin’ for the poors!

#10 anonymous on 06.24.13 at 10:40 am

A significant percentage of this community has no interest in the Washington Pavilion.

All of the recent events….Larry Toll’s song and dance before the Council about the Pavilion’s numbers, the departure of the development director with no explanation, the decision to charge for the VAC, only serve to tank the reputation of the PAV even further.

#11 hornguy on 06.24.13 at 11:12 am

Hahaha, no worries, I asked for your thoughts. I can’t yell at you for giving them to me, right? 😉 I do suspect that in reality, we’re probably more in agreement on a lot of these things than would otherwise appear.

I know that Larry made a point of wanting to bring a lot of the arts non-profits into the building when he took over (the symphony, Jazz & Blues, DAPA). I can’t even remember what the Pavilion was doing with the space the symphony is in on the fourth floor before they leased it. I’m not sure I was ever up there until we moved in three years ago. I’d like to assume that whatever it is was generating less revenue than what it is now, but I’m not really in a position to know.

I’d also hazard that, in terms of facility rental, it’s quite possible that the symphony is the Pavilion’s largest customer, and possibly by a lot. I can’t think of another organization in town that would have cause to be renting space in their building as often as the symphony does. No idea the degree to which that plays into anything – I make noise on stage, but I don’t negotiate the fee for it. I know the Pavilion has certainly tried to be a good partner for us. I can’t deny that.

Beyond that, please note that when it comes to the programming/exhibits, etc. I’m not going to disagree with much of anything you’re saying. I think any arts organization should always be looking for ways to better serve the community. I would hope that if there’s an admission charge for the VAC that it’s at least directed towards bringing in higher quality installations or providing new VAC-related programming that helps to broaden its reach. It would probably be a good thing for the community to see what it’s getting for its money.

(And anominous, I like your sense of humor and I’m not sure if this requires clarifying or not – but just as FYI the groups who rent the facility set their own prices in that regard. We do open dress rehearsals because it’s a nice way to give people who may want to see what we’re about or have little kids with short attention spans a chance to experience what we do. Although since the City Council now hands out $63k projectors to non-profits for doing what we do, maybe our community service model needs some updating… :-/ )

#12 Detroit Lewis on 06.24.13 at 1:29 pm

I still believe the Pavilion needs to be split into 3 management companies, one for each entity. I also believe that the current company needs to be eliminated entirely, if anything, at least all of the higher ups. SMG has shown interest in the past of managing the Great Hall, and that might not be such a bad idea. I would just hate to see the place go to pot after the community has put so much into the place (Estimates are well over $50 million). That is what astonishes me the most about charging admission at the VAC. The community has given you this much money and now all of sudden you thank us by making the entire building fee based? Pretty soon they will probably charge you to walk through the lobby.

#13 anominous on 06.24.13 at 5:20 pm

Thanks hornguy, are you getting paid union wages here in lil’ old South Dakota?