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Changes at the Center for Cultural Exchange
By SARA DONNELLY  |  January 5, 2006

One of the most visible anchors of the so-called "Arts District" in Portland might soon jump ship. The Center for Cultural Exchange will likely decide this month to put its Longfellow Square building in Portland up for sale following the loss of the nonprofit’s founders and concerns about the financial future of the organization. Phyllis O’Neill and Bau Graves moved the Center into the building downtown in the late 1990s; they served as executive director and artistic director, respectively, since the nonprofit was founded in 1984. In December, Graves, who is married to O’Neill, moved to Roanoke, Virginia, to become president and CEO of the Jefferson Center Foundation there.

"The building is a financial burden," says Young. "With Bau and Phyllis gone, my sense is the board is feeling pretty cautious about our financial position. Bau and Phyllis had national credibility and access to national grants. It’s a different world without Bau and Phyllis."

Young declined to say how much the three-story building in Portland’s arts district is costing the Center. Property taxes on the building, in 2005, totaled $10,443, according to city records. The Center rents office space to four tenants. The building also houses a 220-person-capacity theater and CCE’s administrative offices. 

According to the city assessor’s office, the 7,400 square-foot building at One Longfellow Square was valued in 2005 at $518,800; the projected 2006 assessment is $611,700. Portland Performing Arts, Inc., a company started by Graves and O’Neill, purchased the building in 1998 for $65,000. According to Young, the Center now owns the building.

Young says the 2005 budget was around $850,000. He would not release figures on the 2006 budget but did say the board is concerned about snagging grants post-O’Neill and Graves in a national funding market which has grown increasingly competitive in recent years.

Young says he expects the 18-member board will keep the Center based on the Portland peninsula, should the building be put up for sale.

"We would probably wind up operating out of leased space somewhere else," says Young. "The performances would wind up scattered around. There are performances we run now which could be placed in larger venues. One possibility is that we sell the building to somebody who supports the mission of the Center and leases the building back to us."

The Center is also looking at restructuring its internal administration and perhaps suspending or ending some of its offerings, including the annual Festival of Cultural Exchange, which has yet to make money and which this year was criticized for blocking parts of Congress Street (see "CCE Schedules Meetings to Clear the Air," by Sara Donnelly, Sept. 2). Young says the board may not conduct a search for a new executive director but may instead rely more heavily on program director Ryan McMaken, who Young says "has really stepped up." Bo Norris, a member of the board, is currently serving as interim executive director.

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