Since its beginnings in a church basement in 1995, the Great Neck Arts Center has become a presence in downtown Great Neck Plaza, throughout the peninsula and beyond.
But four of the seven Great Neck villages that supported the center have dropped their annual service contracts, leaving the executive director to question the future of the nonprofit organization.
"I'm beyond disappointed. I'm disheartened," said Regina Gil. "We thought we had demonstrated our worth."
The 10,000-square-foot center, which offers classes in performing arts and visual arts, and hosts performances, films and art exhibits, produced the first Gold Coast International Film Festival last year.
The seven villages had entered into contracts ranging from $500 to $2,500 a year, Gil said.
Last July, after a longtime supporter, Saddle Rock Mayor Leonard Samansky, died, that village's administration dropped its contract.
In January, Gil called it a "shock" when she learned the village of Great Neck would not renew its contract. The villages of Thomaston and Russell Gardens had earlier declined to renew their contracts.
The loss of contracts comes as the still-weak economy has led some families to cut back on taking classes, Gil said. Donors also are reducing contributions, she said.
While the village contracts represent a small part of the center's $1.25-million budget, Gil said the organization is left in a weaker position as it seeks grants. When applying for grants, the center is asked to list supporters. If local support is lacking, grant providers ask why, Gil said.
The center is reviewing the kinds of classes it offers and aggressively pursuing new sources of revenue. "Shutting down is a last option," she said. The arts center has 65 employees, including many part-time teachers, as well as dozens of volunteers.
Great Neck Village Mayor Ralph Kreitzman cited "tough financial times" in the decision to pull out of the arts center. "If residents wanted to make contributions to the arts center, they should, but we shouldn't be spending tax dollars on this program," he said.
The state constitution prohibits a local government from giving a gift of public money to a company or nonprofit organization. However, a local government "may pay money to a private group as consideration under a contract" in exchange for services to the government, said Kate Gurnett, a spokeswoman for New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Current Saddle Rock Mayor Dan Levy echoed Kreitzman's fiscal concerns during a board of trustees meeting this month. The village should not directly support nonprofit agencies, he said. He urged village residents as individuals "to take up the slack" in fundraising.
Great Neck Plaza is one of the three villages that still have arts center contracts. Mayor Jean Celender, who also is an arts center board member, said the village was committed to arts and culture, which she described as an "important part of the richness and fabric of the community."
Putting arts at the center
Villages under contract with the Great Neck Arts Center:
Great Neck Plaza
Great Neck Village
Never had contracts: