Maureen Pesta was asked by the Southern Indiana Center for the Arts to donate an original pastel painting for the organization’s SOS: Save Our SICA fundraiser.

The Vallonia resident has been involved with the organization since its inception and has donated pieces for fundraisers in the past.

In search of inspiration for the right pastel and one that would feature marine life to match the event’s theme, Pesta began looking through old photographs like she has done many times before.

“That’s what I often do, look through old photographs for inspiration,” she said.

Story continues below gallery

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Pesta came across a photo she took of her son, Jesse, nearly 50 years ago on the shore of Lake Michigan. That was all she needed to make the perfect painting.

“In the photograph he didn’t have the boat, but it was something I added,” she said of the 33-by-44 painting she donated that was auctioned Saturday evening at The Pines Evergreen Room. “That’s something I do, I take an image out of an old photograph and exert some imagination into it.”

The painting fetched $1,800 to help the organization through its recent financial struggle.  The fundraiser drew a crowd of more than 200.

“We have been getting a lot of community support, but we’re still struggling,” said SICA board member Jane Hays.

The event and other fundraising efforts from the summer brought in a little more than $18,000 prior to Save our SICA. That figure does not include the raffle the organization had for a trip to Siesta Key, Florida, and an autographed guitar from John Mellencamp and live auction items sold during the event.

Pesta said the center enhances the area for local residents and for people thinking about relocating here. The center is also one of the few places in the county that provides an outlet for the visual arts.

“The visual arts are kind of the little sister because in many cases people have many opportunities to participate in music, like at their churches or other places, and our community has two theaters for drama, but the visual arts are major quality-of-life contributors,” she said. “When people come here and think about what there is to do, the art center would be something that would attract them.”

Pesta said she was happy to donate the painting and help the center.

“It’s my contribution,” she said, adding that it will take everyone who cares about the center to save it. “It takes people to pick up the slack and tell everyone it’s important for our community.”

The center’s financial struggles were first reported in July and the organization has been without a director since May. There are no plans to hire a director at this time due to budget restraints, but the organization would like to have a part-time director when it bounces back financially.

A director would help keep the board informed on day-to-day operations and with fundraising and grant writing to help expand the organization’s impact.

“I think once we opened up about how we were struggling, it’s really opened people’s eyes because they have talked to me about how they have sent their kids to art camp before and how they loved it and told me they want us to keep going,” she said. “People have been very positive and I think they would miss us if we weren’t there.”

One thing organizers made clear was the center plans to stay at its location on 2001 North Ewing Street in Seymour.

“I know there was a lot of talk about whether we were going to stay where we’re at,” Hays said. “There’s no changes in the immediate future.”

The center leases the building and property from John Mellencamp for $1 per year, but expenses run high to keep the 166-year-old building going. Mellencamp does not provide funding to the building like many have come to believe.

“Electric and your usual utility bills go up and with an old building there’s a lot more costs,” she said.

The center’s pottery kilns also use a lot of electricity.

“They use a lot of electricity and there’s no insulation in the barns, so it takes more to keep them going,” Hays said. “It’s basically the month-to-month upkeep on things that we’re having a hard time paying.”

Other expenses include paying instructors for classes and entertainment throughout the organization’s live music season.

“It’s keeping the lights on and that’s where we’re at,” she said. Hays said SICA has tightened its budget by keeping a closer eye on expenses. But no programming has been cut, she added.

“It’s not that we were fiscally irresponsible before, it’s just we’re looking more closely at where our expenses are,” she said.

Hays said programming is the driving force behind the center and the board’s decisions.

“We’re trying to avoid (cutting programs) if we can and there’s so much that we do that we don’t want to go away,” she said.

Pesta, who has served as a board member in the past, said the organization has had its struggles before, but has always proved its value to the community.

“It has gone through many crises, some of which we thought we weren’t going to make it,” she said. “This one is another one we are going through now but this is something we need.”

SICA has still struggled with boosting its membership even after restructuring memberships to include small businesses. In July there were roughly 250 members. Membership has grown since, but not what the board had hoped for.

“It’s grown a little, but we’d like for it to grow more,” Hays said. “We’re not too far off from where we’ve been from other years though, but the goal is to have a strong membership that not only donates, but comes to events and volunteers and sends their kids to art camps and participates in the events.”

Benefits of a membership include discounts for classes, events, merchandise and knowing about the center’s events first.

Through its financial struggles, Hays said she thinks people appreciate more of what SICA does in the community.

“I think through all this, people realize what all we do here,” she said.

At a glance

Save our Southern Indiana Center for the Arts

Mail donations or memberships to 2001 N. Ewing St., Seymour, IN 47274.

For more information call 812-522-2278 or visit soinart.com.

Drop off donations at the center from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

Author photo
Jordan Richart is a correspondent for The (Seymour) Tribune.