By Victoria Barber
A source inside Out North Contemporary Art House has confirmed that the gallery and performing art center has undergone an organization-wide layoff, effective immediately, that includes Executive Director Dawnell Smith and Operations Director Teeka Ballas.
News of the layoff was confirmed by a letter from the Board of Directors to the staff, which cited financial difficulties for the move, stating the non-profit has reached a point where “ongoing operations cannot be sustained at this time.”
A volunteer with Out North said Executive Director Smith met privately with board members this morning, prior to an emotional staff meeting when they delivered the news. Four full-time and two part-time employees were given their final paychecks and asked to collect their belongings and return any Out North property. They were also asked for login information and passwords. After the meeting the board changed the locks on the Out North building at 3800 Debarr Road.
The board said in the meeting that they would attempt to keep scheduled programs and artist residencies in place, probably as run by volunteers.
Out North features contemporary artists that push “traditional boundaries of aesthetics and content.” According to its site, it was founded in 1985 as a way to present LGBTQ theater productions. Out North houses several arts groups, including Momentum Dance Collective, F Magazine, 49 Writers Café and Brave New Alaskan Voices.
Radio station KONR at 106.1 FM is licensed to Out North. The station is run by volunteers from outside the Art House and will likely continue to broadcast despite the staff termination.
In addition to ticket sales, Out North is funded by grants and private donations, including a high profile grant this year for $250,000 from ArtPlace to “nurture its art house resident group.” Out North hired new staff as recently as a month ago.
A letter from the board states that they will work with experts in legal, financial and non-profit fields to “assess long-term options for Out North.”
Staff were encouraged to re-apply should the art house hire again but were not guaranteed their positions back.
Click here to view the media statement from Out North board of directors.
* Note: An original version of this story stated the terminated employees were “fired.” An Out North board member contacted the Press to suggest we revise this to “laid off” as these employees are eligible for re-hire should Out North have staff positions again. Since the staff have it hard enough getting handed their pink slips on a day’s notice, we decided to amend the headline to the term with less negative-sounding connotations for them.