In a last-ditch effort to continue running programs out of the Ivanhoe Wheelhouse on Spruce Street, the Ivanhoe Artists Mosaic submitted a plan to the city on Tuesday evening proposing to hand over the building to the city’s Grass Roots Cultural Arts Commission while remaining a resident organization.
The proposal brings together several art groups – the InnerFaith Performing Arts Center, the Now Theater, and the Great Falls School of Art — who would operate out of the 4 Spruce Street location under the watch of the commission.
Lewis Cole, chairman of the commission, said he is in full support of the proposal. The building would also serve as the permanent base of the commission, according to the proposal that was handed out to council members and administration officials.
The nine-page proposal comes at a dispiriting time for the group as the city is close to evicting them out of the building through a landlord-tenant case. City’s law director Domenick Stampone said there’s no lease between the city and the group and so the court will decide on the tenancy issue.
Stampone said a court hearing is scheduled for Friday.
“I don’t feel we need to comment on the proposal [from] what’s happening [in court],” said Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilman, who presided over the meeting in absence of council president Julio Tavarez.
The purpose of the plan is to present an alternative option to the city, said Ken Wallo, vice-president of the mosaic. “There is an option out there other than removing us and then putting it out to bid,” said Wallo.
Jim Reilly, president of the mosaic, said he would like to see the building being used. Reilly said the commission is a city agency, therefore by giving it management control over the building would be same as the city running it.
“We believe this is an acceptable answer instead of losing the building,” said Rashona Elder, co-chairperson for the commission. She said the commission currently operates out of the city’s recreation office.
The mosaic is hoping the mayor would pull back the court case and consider the group’s proposal.
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ office did not make him available for comments but referred questions to Stampone and said Torres’ opinion on the issue aligns with that of the city’s law director.
The dispute that resulted in the city taking legal actions to secure the building began with two belligerent groups wrestling for control of the building as well as the mosaic. The fight between the two arts faction reached a boiling point in the summer of 2013 when a new board took over excommunicating the previous executive director Christine Conforti.
Municipal officials received conflicting stories from both sides some alleging the current board is racist and was hanging a poster of a confederate flag inside the building. The board said it merely hung a United States Postal Service issued stamp commemorating the American Civil War.
City officials later wanted the building emptied out before figuring out who would be in charge of it moving forward. Torres late last year said once the building is back in the city’s possession the administration will seek proposals from various art groups in the Great Falls Historic District after which a committee will review the proposals and enter into a lease agreement with the selected group.