Group raising money to keep SFA art center staff due to COVID-19 funding cuts

The Ed and Gwen Cole Art Center is described as the lifeblood of the community. Now the community is the art center’s lifeline.

Group raising money to keep SFA art center staff due to COVID-19 funding cuts

NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - SFA Friends of the Visual Arts have stepped in to raise money for salaries at the Ed and Gwen Cole Art Center in downtown Nacogdoches. Its director and others are set to lose their jobs on September 30, as the center is letting its staff go due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It caught us completely off guard. As Friends of the Visual Arts we didn’t know this was coming,” said Julie Shackleford, the incoming president for the SFA Friends of the Visual Arts. The group found out about the changes only last week.

The Ed and Gwen Cole Art Center is described as the lifeblood of the community. Now the community is the art center’s lifeline.

SFA is cutting $20-million out of its budget. When the College of Fine Arts got its orders, Dean Dr. Buddy Himes selected the salaries connected with the Cole Art Center.

"Because there's no teaching that goes on there. No student credit hours there. No faculty there," explained Himes.

But instruction occurs for SFA work study students who over two years learn every aspect of running a gallery. Graduates now holding jobs are likely the ones who will send money to help Save the Cole. So are other supporters who value Cole's professional leadership.

"The immediate need for the next year is to raise $200,000 to keep the gallery going for one year. We have about half of that raised already," said Shackleford.

“It has been overwhelming and wonderful,” said art center director John Handley.

The man who seeks out art to bring to Nacogdoches is optimistic. He is hopeful that the long-term goal of a $5-million endowment will be reached to make the Cole self-sustaining.

"The University has made the commitment right away that they are in no way wanting to shutter this building. They will continue to pay the bills and keep the lights on."

But the university’s plan is to have the Cole operated by faculty and students. Staff’s last day is September 30. The professionalism needed to seek art that would otherwise never be seen in Nacogdoches would go away.

That was not the intention of founders, particularly Ed Cole, who passed away in December at age 97.

“He would be very disappointed at this,” said Himes about his close friend. “He would have tears in his eyes.”

And he likely would give money, says Himes. Now it’s left to art advocates to make sure the Coles’ legacy is saved.

The SFA Friends of the Visual Arts is creating a new webpage, funding account and mechanism for people to be able to easily donate funds online.

To follow the progress go to their Facebook page.

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