Starlight Cinema a go; Artery, not so much

Friday, May 15, 2009

By Becky Gillette

EUREKA SPRINGS --The Lucky 13 Starlight Cinema is on again after City Council voted Monday to revise the city's noise ordinance that is in conflict with outdoor, amplified events like the cinema and the upcoming blues festival. Council asked the city attorney to draw up amendments to the ordinance the council plans to act on at a special meeting May 18.

But despite a long discussion of The Artery, there is still no contract approved to allow promoter Charlotte Buchanan and her husband, James Yale, to continue operating the outdoor art gallery. Two months ago, council voted to draw up a contract, but finalizing the details has proved exceptionally difficult.

Supporters of the Lucky 13 Cinema and The Artery showed up to speak. Rae Hahn said more than 60 percent of those attending the outdoor cinema are local families.

"This is one of the only events that caters to the local families of Eureka Springs," Hahn said. "You should do all you can to keep it."

Pat Matsukis, holding a young boy in her arms, said, "Ian asked me to ask you, 'Are you going to take away our movies?'"

His father, Britt Evans, recalled growing up in Eureka when there were a lot of burned out and vacant buildings.

"I remember in the 1970s what changed everything is art came to town," Evans said. "It brought people with fresh ideas. It formed Eureka and it is why a lot of us are here today making a living and raising our families."

Evans said that The Artery and the cinema are amazingly progressive, and the affordable family entertainment provided by the cinema is particularly important when people have been hit by the current economic crunch.

"We look forward to this," Evans said. "As a business person, I've supported it every year. It is an amazing thing for all of us. Outside our little Eureka bubble, people look at us as being very progressive. I think this needs to continue."

Matsukis and Karen Lindblad gave a summary of ordinances passed in 2004 which the women said authorized the Starlight Cinema as an economic development special event generating tens of thousands of dollars in free publicity.

As people left after speaking, cheers erupted in the hallway where a crowd gathered to watch the meeting on television. Because the council meeting room is small, most residents have to watch the meeting on television. Late in the meeting there was a technical problem, and broadcast capabilities were lost

The council discussed asking the police not to enforce the noise ordinance until it is amended, but instead accepted the city attorney's recommendation to quickly amend the ordinance instead.

"I would like the festivals in the next few weeks to continue," said alderman Butch Berry. "We do need special events as we are a tourist town. This ordinance makes it look like we don't want special events."

Resolving The Artery issue was not as simple. The discussion started out with a motion from alderman Rob Wagner to take down The Artery and "redeem" the space.

"The rest of us asked the city to draw up a contract," said alderman Beverly Blankenship. "We have been discussing it for two months. We had a workshop where each of us was present and hammered out everything except for two small things. So to say now, 'Just throw it out and take the art down,' is totally unacceptable with me."

Discussion of contract amendments went on at length, and was confusing at times. At one point Berry voted against one of his own proposed amendments, and alderman Patrick Brammer stopped voting saying he didn't see any way either side would be happy.

Aldermen Berry, Blankenship and James DeVito favored allowing an art committee headed by Buchanan to govern The Artery. Alderman Joyce Zeller said the art displayed has to be juried as it has previously exposed people to offensive art. DeVito said he didn't think there were enough votes to pass keeping control of the art under Buchannan's committee so he recommended The Artery displays be decided by six members from a Eureka Springs Arts Commission being formed by the mayor, and six members from Buchanan's group -- even though he described a 12-member committee as "an unwieldy mob."

Buchanan was offended by the proposed contract.

"They are trying to steal the thing and water it down so I would have only one vote," Buchanan said in an interview after the meeting. "This is trademarked, and they shouldn't take steps to take it over and kick me out."

In the past, artists were not required to have their paintings be approved. She said the proposed combined arts committees would force 27 artists to go "hat in hand" asking permission for their art to be displayed.

"They are legislating creativity," Buchanan said. "They want people to go before the pretty police where everything is controlled and all the spontaneity is gone. Before, each artist showed up with their panel and it knocked our socks off. Now it is dumbed down and they have to ask, 'Do you like it?' If it gets to that, what is the whole point?"

She added that often the artists are selected and their muse would come to them later. An example she gave was of Connie Evans' highly regarded painting of John Lennon. Evans didn't know until a month before what she was going to do.

Late in the meeting, a final thorny issue came up when Wagner said since the National Heritage Foundation (NHF) is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, he questioned if the Congressional District Partnership (CDP) -- the non-profit organization The Artery works under -- is a legally contractible party. Wagner said CDP is a NHF entity. The council voted to ask the city attorney to look into that issue.

Jan Ridgely, vice president of NHF, said that although CDP and NHF share offices, they are separate legal entities and CDP is not in bankruptcy.

"These are two completely separate public, charitable corporations," Ridgely said in a telephone interview. "CDP has nothing to do with the NHF bankruptcy. This would be like saying Toyota can't do business because Chrysler is in bankruptcy. This is a red herring, a stumbling block to the charitable mission and purpose of The Artery program. Any contract with the city would be with CDP, so we would be happy to answer questions from the council."

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Dani Joy made a plea for civility and cooperation.

"Nobody in this town is against artists," Joy said. "Art is part of a viable economy in the town, and is going to be even more so in the future. In this town we tend to blow things up. It doesn't do anyone any good. We have so many good things going on we don't have time for negative backbiting. I hope we can get past this ... it is time to be civil."

In other business:

* Greg Hughes was appointed to the Historic District Commission.

* Alderman DeVito appealed for people to volunteer to serve on the Planning Commission, which has lost another member and is now down to four people on a seven-person board, making it necessary for all members to be present to have a quorum to conduct business.

* Yvonne Kline, finance director for Eureka, said City Hall was hit by a lighting strike May 1 that caused more than $10,000 worth of damage to the city's phone system, computers and other electronics. All the equipment was on surge protectors, but that wasn't adequate to protect against a direct lighting hit. Council approved $10,000 to be allocated from the general fund capital account to pay for repairs and replacement.

"We're very lucky," said Mayor Dani Joy. "It could have burned City Hall down."

Joy also said a preliminary engineering report on underground drainage issues with the City Auditorium indicates it would cost about $3.1 million to repair. The city has applied for a grant from FEMA available to prevent disasters that might help pay for repairs. Joy said if the underground fell down, it would devastate the downtown area.

* Council approved, on first reading, rezoning property on Judah St. north of the Best Western Eureka Inn from R1 (Victorian Residential) to C2 (Contemporary Commercial).

Joy also addressed complaints about prayers at the start of recent council meetings. She said these prayers are not illegal, and similar prayers happen in Congress, in state government and other government offices.

"It happens everywhere," she said. "The only reason for prayer was to ask for divine help for whatever we do."

Joy said there is only a conflict of interest between separation of church and state when special interest groups try to dictate public policy.

* Nine pages of a recent Arkansas Times newspaper were devoted to Eureka Springs as an arts and tourism destination.

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