Wrath and Resolution
Steinbeck Center down on its luck, but fighting back.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The National Steinbeck Center is losing money and searching for a new leader to turn the literary museum around. Fast.
Even with further trims to wages, the Steinbeck Center is expected to have a $135,000 deficit by the end of the fiscal year. With former President and CEO Steve Hoffman abruptly resigning Sept. 2, the center’s board is looking for a qualified replacement.
“Our strategy in getting out of [the deficit] is having a strong leader and someone who has the résumé and the capability of acting in a very strong way,” says Tom Honig, executive committee member. The center offered the interim post to John N. Bailey, the museum’s vice chair of strategic planning and a retired nonprofit manager. But Bailey turned down the offer Sept. 15.
The board instead appointed Chief Programs Officer Colleen Bailey (no relation) as acting director. “She’s been a kind of behind-the-scenes leader there for a long time,” she says. Bailey took the helm a day after the board received a dismal financial report. Expenses are currently outpacing revenues by more than $50,000. Museum visits are down 15 percent compared to last year, and the normally busy summer months, including August’s Steinbeck Festival, haven’t been profitable. “Instead of making money in July and August, we’ve lost money,” said Chris Steinbruner, board treasurer.
Staff turnover has led to event pricing and collection problems, high inventory in the bookstore and missed grant and sponsorship funding, the report said. In addition, Steinbruner said the center budgeted to receive $65,000 more in grants and could overextend its $1 million line of credit.
Since the center laid off five staffers in January, Honig says there’s no more room to cut without eroding quality. Plus, the center has to fulfill the requirements of two major grants this year.
Board President Sonia Jaramillo says the board needs to come up with a plan to ensure the institution’s financial stability. “We want to be there forever and ever for all generations to enjoy – that’s why we need to take action,” Jaramillo says. “We don’t want the center to close.”
The center plans to aggressively go after new grants and increase fundraising to stay out of the red. The center has already tapped the city for a loan.
For two years, the city will shoulder the building’s $180,000-a-year bond payments. As part of the loan agreement, Mayor Dennis Donohue and one council appointee will get a seat on the nonprofit’s board.
It’s rumored that the Steinbeck Library may move into the center, but Donohue says he’s against it. “I have absolutely no interest in the library going to the Steinbeck Center,” he says, adding that the downtown attraction is too important to fail.