FORTVILLE — After 10 years of offering dance classes, taekwondo, art instruction, comedy nights, live music and theater productions, one of the county’s few nonprofit performance venues is in danger of closing.
A fundraising plea emailed out to supporters this week detailed Ten West Center for the Arts’ financial situation and asked for community assistance through a membership drive of monthly pledges.
The letter stated that Ten West executive director and co-founder Paul Okerson, who until lately has been financing 90 percent of the building’s operating expenses, recently lost his job. His loss of income is also a loss for Ten West.
The center needs to raise $1,200 per month to cover the utility costs for the building, said Andrew Okerson, event coordinator for the organization and Paul Okerson’s son.
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The fundraising effort features a tiered-membership system through which — for a year-long commitment of monthly donations — members receive recognition in event programs, a membership card good for discounts on goods and services around the Fortville community and tickets to Ten West events.
“It’s not a super-effective financial strategy, but we’re searching for grants and other funding,” Andrew Okerson said.
The Okersons assembled an emergency committee of friends of Ten West — actors, marketing professionals and arts supporters — to put together a fundraising strategy. Aside from the membership drive, organizers plan to step up efforts to rent out space in the building for graduation parties, receptions and other social gatherings.
As of Wednesday morning, Ten West had received enough donations to cover about 30 percent of operating costs for the year, officials said.
Apart from hosting visiting acts and putting on productions of its own, Ten West is home to several vendors and organizations that rent space for their activities; they include Celestial Martial Arts, Artsy Canvas, and a local Boy Scout troop. Funds collected from their individual leases cover Ten West’s monthly rent payment, but Paul Okerson has covered additional costs, including utilities.
Bruce Monroe and his wife, Celeste, owner-managers Celestial Martial Arts, have rented space there for two years, teaching six taekwondo classes to more than 25 students three days a week. Both are concerned about how the possible loss of Ten West would affect the community.
“There isn’t any place else in Fortville for the amount of kids to be involved and do what they do here,” Bruce Monroe said. “The community needs to come together.”
Ashley Thomas, owner of Artsy Canvas, has been renting space in the building for three years for group painting events.
Ten West, since its opening in 2007, has become a gathering space for creatives of all kinds. Thomas can’t imagine someone being able to pick up in the Okersons’ stead.
“(Ten West) creates a lot of positive energy in the community,” Thomas said. “I’m not sure where else this could happen again.”
Paul Okerson leased the building in November 2007 and, with the help of his sons, Matt and Andrew, renovated the former church building, which opened for new programs the following spring.
Jennifer Lear, a marketing account manager, blogs under the name, Fortville Mama, to promote area events like those that happen at Ten West. The center’s influence extends far beyond its four walls, she said; Ten West partners with a variety of other community events.
As mother juggling activity costs for a 7-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, Lear appreciates the fact Ten West programs are low-priced. Both children have taken art classes at the center; her daughter has participated in dance classes, and her son was part of the cast of the 2015 summer production of “The Little Mermaid Jr.”
“Ten West is a great asset to let children experience the arts affordably,” Lear said.
Lear’s participation on the fundraising committee allows her to offer her expertise in marketing and achieve their goal to stay open.
“I love being a cheerleader for Ten West,” she said.
Nancy Leslie, president of the Hancock County Arts and Cultural Council, has long been impressed by Ten West’s programming.
“I hope they can get through this,” Leslie said “I don’t want to see another venue disappear.”
For the time being, the Okersons remain upbeat. Classes will continue as scheduled; a father-daughter Valentine Dance remains on the calendar; and Andrew Okerson plans to announce a five-production theater season.
Besides, they’ve weathered tough times before. Andrew Okerson remembers when the building was robbed, and $14,000 worth of equipment was stolen. He remembers when the building flooded, ruining a newly purchased dance floor.
“Something happens every few years, and we just have to get through it,” Andrew Okerson said. “We don’t give up. We push through it. We bounce back.”
Ten West Center for the Arts, located at 10 W. Church St. in Fortville, is in danger of closing because of funding issues. To donate to the cause, visit: tenwestcenter.org/donate/membership