Council shuts door on City Art Works program

By Marilyn Miller

As of September 30, 2023, City Art Works, located in downtown Minden, will no longer be in operation. The arts center has been located on the corner of Main Street and East Union Blvd. for the past seven years in a building leased from the Inabnett estate.

The news was delivered to Art facilities director Steve Wilson, Parks & Recreation Dept. head Zita Williams, City Clerk Michael Fluhr, Public Works superintendent Tyler Wallace, Minden Main Street director Taylor Wren, and I. T. Dept. head Jeff Ellinwood via an in-house Memorandum on Sept. 6, 2023.

The memo read, “In the 2023-2024 City of Minden Budget passed by the City Council on September 5, 2023, City Art Works has been defunded. Consequently, City Art Works will close after September 30, 2023. Individuals with propery inside of City Art Works will have until October 31, 2023 to remove all belongings. After October 31, 2023, the City of Minden will dispose of any and all property not owned by the City.”  Sincerely, Nicholas A. Cox

“None of us wanted it to happen,” said Steve Wilson, director of the program. “But it’s not like we had a big budget to do anything with.” City funding basicly paid rent and utilities.

While Wilson is disappointed, he acknowledged that the building and program were never designed to “make us a lot of money.”

“It was put here to be a center for cultural art for the City, as well as to give area children and adults a place to express their art,” Wilson continued. “But mostly, we took money for something like this out of our own pockets or from donations,” Wilson continued.

While the City struggled to balance the 2023-’24 Budget, many have suggested that the art works center is something that the City needs in order to better serve its children. Minden Mayor Nick Cox doesn’t agree that City Art Works as it is organized today has been doing that.

“I appreciate everyone’s concern and understand where you’re coming from. It was a hard decision to make,” the mayor said. “But I believe that it’s the job of the City to do certain core things – maintaining the infrastructure and protecting the people.”

“Our Budget is focused heavily on safety and infrastructure.”

In the seven years since it was organized, City Art Works has received $185,000. That’s $27,000 a year from the City’s budget. Mayor Cox admits that’s not a lot of money. However, after touring the downtown building, the mayor determined that not only is the site under-utilized, but it is also dangerous.

“The lobby is nice, but behind that is a big space that seems to be used for storage…personal storage,” he said. There are leaks in the roof, but the landlord told City Art Works that if it were repaired, he’d have to raise the rent.

“We walked down to the basement and realized we were standing in two inches of water – and it hasn’t even rained in three months,” Mayor Cox exclaimed. “And there were power cords laying in all that water.”

What could the City do to rectify the situation? Nothing, according to the mayor. “We can’t spend money on a property that we don’t own,” he explained.

Mayor Cox expressed that just because the program was cut, does not mean that the City “does not like art…or does not support children.” In fact, he said, City Hall would welcome art exhibits in the hallways. Others, like the Dorcheat Museum, would probably also host art exhibits. The banks would probably welcome exhibits by local artists, too.

“We just can’t carry on City Art Works at this time,” Mayor Cox said. “To be fair, I have to know in my heart that we’re spending the Budget in a way that serves as many people in the City of Minden as possible.”

Many believe that the arts can, indeed, generate financial growth for the City.

“Until City leadership recognizes the value of the arts and the economic growth that it brings, we will continue to see an erosion of enrichment opportunities,” said artist Chris Broussard. “The closure of The Children’s Center, the birth place of Cultural Crossroads….now the closure of City Artworks brings our losses to the arts at its lowest.”

“Our last Spring Arts Festival, after 25 years and a variety of arts related events, found fertile ground in Minden,” she continued. “…But sadly couldn’t find a sustainable environment to continue to grow. We desperately need art warriors willing to stand up for the arts and fight for them. Our children deserve better. I am mourning even more losses than I ever imagined. So, what do people really want?”

That’s the question that remains for citizens and city officials alike.