{mosimage}For several weeks the city-appointed Fayetteville Museum of Art Task Force has been meeting to resolve issues surround the location for the new museum. Other than answering questions directed to them by the task force, museum officials have had little to say about the process. Museum Director Tom Grubb sat down with Up & Coming Weekly recently to talk about the task force, the vision of the museum and the state of the arts in the community.
    “The task force was established politically,” said Grubb, “and as such, it has a political agenda. What everyone seems to be missing is that there is a contract between the city and the museum. In a contract, both parties agree to move forward and make things happen. The task force doesn’t fit into that.”
    According to Grubb, when the initial agreement was reached between the museum and the City of Fayetteville, the city asked that the museum provide additional parking for the park and other infrastructure improvements at the site.
    “The museum has only done what we thought the elected officials and the community wanted us to do,” he said.
He contends that behind the scenes and “closed door” meetings were held with the express purpose of preventing the museum from receiving the deeds to the property. Grubb said the first deed was turned over to the museum in April ‘07. When the second deed was not forthcoming, he made numerous trips to the city hall to check on it, finally being told by city staffers that they were told not to ask about the deed again. “It was at that point that the idea of the task force came up and the press became involved,” said Grubb, adding that prior to, and since its formation, museum officials have been pressured to return the first deed to the city.
    Of the task force, Grubb noted, “It’s hard to control something like a task force once it gets started. We let the city know that we would participate and cooperate with the task force, but we really see it as an obstacle to the fulfillment of the contract.”
    He noted that the since the task force has started deliberating sites, the sites they are focusing on are either in the park or close to the park. “It will be really interesting to see if the city listens to the task force if they recommend the museum be built inside the park,” said Grubb.
    He added that the museum has already agreed to a compromise on the location of the museum, with the site moving back closer to Ray Avenue. “There seems to be some growing support for that site,” he said.
When asked about the museum’s ability to support the facility financially, Grubb explained that the museum board had taken a hard look at the financial ramifications of the move. “We had experts come in and help us develop a business plan and a budget,” said Grubb. “We programmed more than 12,000 square feet of revenue-generating space into the design. This museum is not going to be a box with art in it. That’s the old design for a museum. This museum is going to be a gathering place.”
    The revenue-generating space Grubb referenced is a full-service restaurant, a cafe, a catering service and a multi-purpose meeting room, which can be rented out for meetings. Acknowledging that the museum knows art, not the restaurant business, Grubb said the restaurant, cafe and catering service would all be business partnerships with experts in those fields running those businesses. The leases for those facilities would help cover the additional costs of operating the new facility.
    Grubb acknowledges that many in the city are afraid of getting burned if the museum cannot fund the facility. When asked if the museum could find itself in the same position as the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, unable to pay its debt to the city, Grubb said he doesn’t believe the museum will ever be in that position, but noted that the city has benefited and will continue to benefit from the ASOM, despite its initial financial problems.
    One of the many questions that has been raised over the course of the discussions concerning the museum is: Who would actually own Festival Park? Many people are concerned that the museum would program, and thus control the park. Grubb said that is not the case. “We would not interfere with events in the park,” he said. “There is nothing that is currently done in the park that won’t be able to be done when the museum is there.”
    He said museum officials are aware of people’s concerns regarding the International Festival and the Dogwood Festival. “From the beginning of the design of the park, it was never expected that the whole festival would be held in the park,” he said. “For events like that, it’s all about staging. Both events have moved further up Ray Avenue and closer to Hay Street. We could be an asset to those events by bringing world-class exhibits that tie in with the themes.”
    When asked about the museum’s ability to raise the $13 million needed to construct the facility, Grubb noted that the task force and the controversy has put a damper on fundraising, but feels that once the issue is resolved the museum can be successful. “In July people were paying $147 for oil, now they are paying $43. So we don’t know what’s around the corner. If we put together a good product, and if the community works together, we can make it happen,” he said. “We have a good product. We are flexible. We have been providing a wonderful service to this community for 35 years, and it’s sad to see that being undermined and discredited. That’s what I find shameful in this whole process.”
    And while Grubb can’t pinpoint the source of the discord or the agenda, he is excited about the discussions. “Can you imagine this kind of discussion and dialogue about the arts occurring in Fayetteville?” he said. “We may be in the dark here, but when we get this right, the museum is going to be a light that shines brighter than anything.”

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