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    Group vacates city arts center

    Classes at the Oldsmar Cultural Arts Centre will continue even though foundation employees are moving out because of a dispute with the mayor.

    By JULIE CHURCH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 7, 2002


    OLDSMAR -- City-sponsored arts programs will continue this summer despite a rift between the Oldsmar Cultural Arts Foundation and Mayor Jerry Beverland, parks and recreation director Lynn Rives said.

    "Basically, patrons of the arts programs in Oldsmar will see no changes. That's my hope," he said.

    The arts group has decided to follow through on a threat it made last month to move out of its Oldsmar Cultural Arts Centre offices today and back out of its contract to provide arts programming in Oldsmar.

    The arts center, 402 St. Petersburg Drive, will remain open for classes. Employees of the private, nonprofit foundation have spent this week packing up their offices at the building, which is the old Oldsmar Civic Club.

    "Although we are moving out of the arts center building, we have all agreed to continue working with the city in some fashion," said Suda Yantiss, vice president of the foundation's executive board.

    Rives said that no matter what happens between the City Council and the foundation in the future, his department was poised to take control of arts programs starting Monday.

    The foundation has several programs scheduled in June, including belly dancing and yoga classes for adults, a children's singing and acting workshop, and piano lessons.

    Those programs will continue uninterrupted at the Oldsmar Cultural Arts Centre while the city and the foundation try to iron out their differences, Rives said.

    The city will work on a class-by-class basis with instructors from the foundation until another schedule can be arranged.

    Oldsmar resident Vicki Kohner has been taking art classes from the foundation since March. She said she enjoyed the classes and would prefer to see them offered independently of the city.

    "I think the city should stay out of it," she said. "I think they can do a better job without the city dictating what they can and cannot do."

    In a May 10 letter, the foundation board cited "the mayor's growing hostility and distortions of fact" as the reason the group was willing to give up its $6,000-per-month contract with the city six months before it expired in December.

    Oldsmar's city attorney determined last month that the foundation didn't have an out clause in its contract; but that by the time any judge could rule on the matter, the contract might have expired, said city manager Bruce Haddock.

    Meanwhile, the City Council voted unanimously this week to discuss its differences with the foundation's executive board. The board agreed to a meeting and suggested four possible dates.

    Beverland and foundation president Ed Manny, who ran against each other in the mayor's race last year, met last week and tried to reach an agreement so that the foundation could continue to run the city's arts programs until its contract expired. Both agreed that the meeting went smoothly, but they were unable to reach an agreement.

    "I am not going to be an obstacle for them; but I am not going to be a cheerleader for them, either," Beverland said Thursday. "We have had arts programs in this city for 15 years; and if we take over again, they will flourish."

    Councilman Brian Michaels said he would like to see relations mended between the city and the arts group.

    "The olive branch has been passed to the foundation in hopes that we can work together," he said. "If everyone just steps back, takes a deep breath and counts to 10, hopefully this will all work itself out."

    -- Julie Church can be reached at (727) 445-4229 or church@sptimes.com.

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