Creative Spark Center for the Arts is in the middle of a serious financial drought this summer. The Mt. Pleasant-based nonprofit arts organization, which specializes in arts programs for children, has been struggling month-to-month to pay their bills since April.
"We've lasted and persevered for many months after many nonprofits have had to fold, but we're now feeling the effects of previous recessions," says Board President Jennifer Smith. "And we're catching up. People are in arrears to us for lessons and art classes and things for a great amount of money. We're just trying to catch up with our bills."
In fact, the organization is owed $20,000 — but that's only half the amount they're in debt.
Creative Spark has been in a transition phase since Brandi Elkins took over as executive director after founder Carol Antman left in May. Elkins had her work cut out for her from the beginning — the organization started to feel the financial pinch around that time.
"We've been in talks all spring about what programs we need to cut, how we're going to reallocate space to be able to try to bring in more classes, which will be cramped, but will allow us to get back in the black so we can go back to operating as a good arts member of the community," Smith says. "We've got a lot of great programs that are going to have to get cut."
While finances are a serious issue for the Center at this point, another concern is their reputation. Creative Spark contracts artists to perform and teach at local schools. At least one of those artists, John Jaramillo, was paid late for his services. His wife and manager Therra Gwyn wanted to know where the money, paid to Creative Spark by Moultrie Middle School, had gone. She contacted the school, the S.C. Arts Commission, and local media outlets in her search for answers.
"No one has said yet what Creative Spark did with the money that was given to them and meant to pay the artists," Gwyn wrote in an early e-mail to the City Paper. "Creative Spark is in breach of contract with the artists. They appeared to have lied to the school at the least, defrauded them at the worst."
Smith says that Gwyn misrepresented Creative Spark's actions.
"We haven't even paid our electric bill," Smith says, "because we're trying to get these artists paid, who depend on us. The light that she is bringing onto this situation, in which we're doing everything we can to pay her, is really going to bring a negative light on Creative Spark. Those that know us are going to say, 'Oh, they're going away anyway. We don't really need to pay them.' We feel like that just shot her and us in the foot a little bit."
The executive board called an emergency meeting last week to deal with the situation and gathered $500 to pay Jaramillo. Elkins says they sent the remainder of the money Tuesday.
"We are grateful to Creative Spark for finally dealing with this and putting it on the priority list," Gwyn says.
"While it is always difficult to have a public dispute, it has forced us to evaluate what we offer and how we do business and make some corrections," Elkins says. "Ultimately, we will be a better community partner for it."
Between upcoming fundraisers and expected grants, Creative Spark hopes to be debt-free soon.
"We remain convinced by the joy and power of the arts, and we remain committed to our mission to make arts education and programming accessible to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay," Elkins says. "We are planning an amazing fall program, which will include new classes such as 'Project Runway' and 'Glee,' as well as our other many wonderful programs in music, art, clay, and writing.
"We are founded on enhancing the ability for artists to earn a living," Elkins adds. "We are sensitive to cash-flow problems because we have them also. We want to help and are frustrated with the effect of the economic fallout."
Creative Spark hosts a Gingerbread Weekend fundraiser at the Center July 23-25. See creativespark.org or call (843) 881-3780 for more details. Tickets are $10/adv., $12/door.