More than 60 people packed the Mountain Arts Community Center's cafeteria Aug. 7 in what Signal Mountain Councilman Dan Landrum called a "last hurrah" to save the historic building.
Each month, Landrum hosts a community forum to give residents a venue to discuss issues related to the town, but this month's session served a dual purpose. For the councilman's wife, MACC Board member Angie Landrum, the meeting was also a way to gauge residents' level of interest in maintaining the arts center before personally committing to forming a 501(c)(3) to help fund it.
"Tonight was important because I wanted to know ahead of time: Is there community support to make it worth getting a nonprofit established, because it is a process," Angie Landrum said. "It takes money and it takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of people but I think I have the support."
The Signal Mountain Town Council in June indicated its willingness to partner with a community group that would be dedicated to raising funds for the MACC, so long as the group obtained 501(c)(3) certification and signed a memorandum of agreement detailing the terms of the partnership.
The agreement would enable the approved group to raise funds for repairs the council has not allocated money toward, like installing a new sprinkler system in the back portion of the former grammar school building. Dan Landrum said this would prevent the section from being shut down by the state fire marshal, but the repair comes with a $70,000 price tag.
Advocates from past fundraising bodies for the MACC advised that any interested community group proceed with caution, pointing out that while past volunteer organizations like Friends of the MACC and the MACC Foundation were successful, they were never able to draw in "big bucks" for the center.
Former mayor Paul Hendricks, who served on the MACC Foundation, said that fundraising organization only raised about $8,500 a year. At maximum, added MACC Board Chair Sandy McCrea, the MACC Foundation was able to raise $53,000.
"That wouldn't even pay the operating budget for MACC for a year," said McCrea, who is also a former member of Friends of the MACC.
Though council members expressed interest in seeing an independent group allow the MACC to become mostly self-sufficient over time, the former fundraisers said they are doubtful a nonprofit could keep the center's doors open without any town funding - at least, not without a significant dip in quality.
"I think it could be done, but it'd take work," said Hendricks, who stressed the need to recruit professionals with fundraising experience for the nonprofit. "[Money] doesn't just roll in; you can't just send out a [letter] and ask once a year and say 'send us money.' It's a constant thing."
While Angie Landrum admitted she has little fundraising experience, she said she hopes to enlist community advocates who do, as well as those with legal experience to handle any issues as they arise. MACC Director Barb Storm also reminded attendees that nonprofits can apply for funding from a pool of grants 90 percent larger than what is available to local government entities.
Though residents at the community forum brought up a number of concerns about a community group partnering with the council - such as being made to sign a memorandum of agreement that favors the town - the former fundraising volunteers are optimistic. Hendricks said relations with the council have "monumentally improved" since his time on the MACC Foundation, and both he and McCrea are eager to see Angie Landrum's hard work pay off.
"I don't want to jinx anything," laughed McCrea. "I want this to succeed if it can. I want MACC to survive."