The ARTS/West building is closed for the remainder of the year, with a tentative reopening date of Jan. 4.
The Athens Municipal Arts Commission (AMAC) met via Zoom Thursday evening and discussed the art building’s temporary closure. ARTS/West is a part of the city’s Arts, Parks and Recreation department.
Athens mayor Steve Patterson explained that months back, due to coronavirus-related financial strains, department heads in the city were tasked with describing the state of their budgets and if their employees had enough work to fulfill a 40-hour workweek. After analyzing annual and monthly reports, Patterson said, it “became clear” that a couple of city positions did not have a sufficient workload because of the pandemic.
The remaining employee of the arts building, the ARTS/West program specialist, was temporarily laid-off as a result.
“I’m hearing a lot of misinformation… I’ve heard everything from ‘the city is permanently closing down ARTS/West’ to ‘the city is selling ARTS/West,’” Patterson said during the digital meeting. “Nothing is more valuable to me when it comes to quality of life — other than having good, clean water and having a running sewer system — than having arts in your community.”
The mayor also noted that this decision was difficult, but it likely won’t be the end of difficult decision making in terms of city employment.
Terri Moore, the Athens Director of Arts, Parks and Recreation, said that her department had weekly meetings with the Athens City-County Health Department to be advised about best practices during the pandemic and receive approval for planning. When total cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) began rising in the county, the health department took a “hard position” against activities that could encourage gatherings, Moore said. This included park shelters and the ARTS/West building.
In addition, the cost for staffing exceeded what the department could afford. Summer camp began this year, but was ultimately canceled and refunds were given to families in the community.
However, the space may be utilized for other purposes this year, Moore said. For example, it could be used as an Internet hotspot space, as many students in the community will be learning virtually this school year. Moore noted she’s looking at hotspots on the east and west sides of the city, with one being in the ARTS/West building and the other being in the Athens Community Center.
Moore also said that she has a meeting slated next week about the possibility of utilizing the ARTS/West space for PRISM after-school programming activities.
“I am open to do what we can do responsibly and safely, and with the limited budget that we have, we’ll have to work creatively,” Moore explained.
The ARTS/West building, located at 132 W. State St., shut its doors to the public in March because of the pandemic.