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Light Factory looks for ways to reopen

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Jeff Wise

A team is expected to be formed within weeks to look at options for The Light Factory, the Charlotte photography and film museum that laid off its three paid employees and suspended operations Monday amid financial problems.

Jeff Wise, The Light Factory’s board chair, said shutting down the 41-year-old organization based at Spirit Square was necessary because there was not enough money coming in to pay debts and support operations. It is one of four museums in the nation specializing exclusively in film and photography.

“It’s a great organization,” Brian Collier, senior vice president of the Foundation for the Carolinas, said Tuesday. “It’s unique.”

Collier said the foundation had set aside up to $50,000 from its Community Catalyst Fund to help The Light Factory determine its future and is advising the museum on consultants for such a project.

Everything from financial models to programs to leadership will need to be examined, Collier said.

Wise, who took over as board chair three months ago, said other organizations have offered assistance since the announcement Monday that The Light Factory would suspend operations.

As The Light Factory’s finances grew perilous in the spring, the organization – with the assistance of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council – brought in Kathy Ridge of Levridge Resources, a Charlotte consultant for nonprofits, to develop options, Wise said.

Among the suggestions, Wise said, were splitting the museum’s operations, reforming as a smaller organization, finding a partnership or shutting down. “That’s not the thing we want to do,” he said, “but we are circumspect knowing it’s a potential.”

ASC grants to The Light Factory and other cultural organizations had decreased in the years following the recession. In the last three years, Wise said, overall income had fallen by about 30 percent.

ASC offered technical help

Reports on file with the IRS show The Light Factory had expenses of $637,000 and a surplus of $30,000 in June 2012, the most recent year for which data are available.

In 2012, the ASC gave The Light Factory $125,000 in operating support, but this year it is offering only technical support grants of up to $75,000 to help the museum find an sustainable model.

“We’re trying to help them make decisions about their future,” said Robert Bush, interim ASC president. So far, only $10,000 of the technical support grant has been spent.

Wise said the museum’s board will decide soon whether to take the assistance from the ASC or the foundation to examine its options. He said he hoped the museum’s fate would be decided in November.

Classes in session at The Light Factory will be completed, and those who have signed up for future classes will be notified whether they will be held or money refunded, Wise said.

Studying nonprofits’ future

Many Charlotte nonprofits have been struggling with finances because of the decreases in donations since the recession, downturns in workplace giving and other changes in traditional fund-raising strategies.

Last year, the Charlotte Museum of History suspended operations amid financial problems and has since hired a new executive director.

Organized by the ASC, the Cultural Life Task Force is studying long-range solutions for supporting the arts in the region by looking at models adopted in other cities. It expects to have recommendations by January.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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