New Spires Studio

The New Spire studio in the former Board of Education building on East Church Street.

Lindsey McCormick described her reaction to a March 1 email from New Spire Arts as “surprised” and “panicked.” After a year of teaching belly dancing classes for the nonprofit organization, McCormick was informed — three days before the start of the spring session — that New Spire was changing the format of its education program. Spring classes were canceled, and the education building at 115 E. Church St. would no longer be available.

Bess Kaye, the artistic director of the local youth acting company Riotous Youth, had a similar reaction when she received an identical email the same day. The company had staged productions and rehearsals at New Spire for a year before they were suddenly told the building was unavailable. A week before their first scheduled spring rehearsal, Kaye was left scrambling to find a new home for the program.

“My initial response was disappointment and panic,” Kaye said, echoing McCormick. “I had no notice. My initial thought was that there was no way we’d be able to find a space by our start date.”

The news was also a surprise to former staffers at New Spire who had a similar moment of panic on Feb. 27. That Wednesday, several confirmed, full-time staff members were called in one by one to meet with board chair Gordon Cooley. Cooley informed all but two of them that their positions had been or would be terminated, according to multiple sources in the organization. Weeks earlier, former executive director Daniel Singh had also been released by the board, sources said.

Cooley did not return three phone calls requesting comment.

The sudden changes — weeks after the splashy debut of New Spire Stages on West Patrick Street — left both former staff and the Frederick arts community in serious doubt over the future of a nonprofit that once seemed like an answer to their prayers.

“They were like a beacon from heaven,” McCormick said. “Their mission statement was everything that we needed in Frederick. So to have it end like this — it’s just disheartening.”

Performing arts education has been listed as a mission of New Spire Arts since the organization was refounded, in 2016, from the remnants of an earlier project announced by the Ausherman Family Foundation. That first project — dubbed “15 Squared” — was planned as a new theater space built from the former Cultural Arts Center of Frederick County at 15 W. Patrick St. But when the foundation rebranded as New Spire Arts, then-board member Marvin Ausherman announced ambitious plans to bridge the performance arts space with the Church Street education building to create a symbiotic new arts organization in Frederick.

According to a statement from the New Spire board, the nonprofit still plans to deliver arts classes through “a strategic partnership with the YMCA of Frederick County.” The statement did not provide details on how those classes would be planned, or delivered, given that New Spire Arts no longer has an executive director or a supporting staff.

Board secretary Matt Livelsberger disputed allegations, repeated by five people formerly involved with New Spire Arts, that the organization was discontinuing its education program. But he also said it was premature to discuss the logistics of New Spire classes and whether they would be offered through New Spire or the YMCA.

“I’m not positive that level of detail has been worked out just yet,” Livelsberger said. “But it’s not exactly true to say we’d be eliminating our education program. We’re not going to hold classes and run that infrastructure with the 115 East Church Street location. But we’re not completely abandoning what we were doing.”

Even if classes do continue through the YMCA, the future of the Church Street education building is still unclear. New Spire Arts previously rented the space from a trust established by the Ausherman Family Foundation, but the YMCA is discussing the possibility of assuming management of the building, according to YMCA CEO and New Spire vice chair Chris Colville. Because no formal decision has been reached, she said, the two organizations had not decided whether the YMCA would also assume operating costs or be expected to pay rent.

Livelsberger also linked the new partnership with the YMCA to the decision to eliminate staff positions at New Spire Arts. He described eliminated positions, including the marketing coordinator, volunteer coordinator, and receptionist, as “duplicates” to jobs “already handled by the Y’s infrastructure.” But for some former New Spire staff members — who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity based on fears of retaliation from their former employer — the partnership between the two organizations presents a conflict of interest. Colville’s position on the board of directors for New Spire Arts coupled with the YMCA receiving grant funding from the Ausherman Family Foundation creates the conflict, several sources said.

“No one was notified or consulted that the Y would be taking over programming for New Spire,” one said. “It’s like deferring money from the artists to the YMCA.”

According to Colville and Livelsberger, Colville recused herself from board conversations and decisions about the new partnership.

Follow Kate Masters on Twitter: @kamamasters.

Kate Masters is the features and food reporter for The Frederick News-Post. She can be reached at kmasters@newspost.com.

(16) comments

glenkrc

This is today's front page headline? I won't say it's "Much Ado About Nothing," but it certainly is much ado about not much.

akdy22764

Historic Frederick is a designated national arts district. This is an Arts rich and supported community. So. Yes, there is validity in the "Much Ado" about something very important. This is Front Page worthy news.

Comment deleted.
tdavis

I do not believe the person referenced in the article is the treasurer. Same name, different person

Comment deleted.
junkmail1291

Google all the rest of the board too! No arts expertise. Banks, retail and non-profit "corporations." Jeez. Talk about lack of perspective.

threecents

I saw Much Ado About Nothing" at New Spires a couple of weeks ago, and it was fantastic. Full house, though the house was not very big. I hope they will continue.

bosco

That building would make a nice downtown hotel.

akdy22764

Sounds like a mess. ---For those (all ages) seeking another local theater/performing arts, dance, and vocal center for classes/workshops/camps, check out F.A.T.E. (Future Artists of Tomorrow, Empowered!) right off 340 in Jefferson, MD. (7 miles outside of Frederick) ---And this week is a "Drop-In and Try A Class" week. Check them out online, and via FB and Instagram. Good luck to All who have lost their jobs, and to those now seeking a new place to study and grow in the arts.

BlueFredneck

So is this as big a failboat as the CREST program that has offered what, like one or two classes in my four years in Frederick?

sevenstones1000

What is going on? I really don’t understand how the Y can march in and shut down what seems like such a promising venue. Will the scheduled performing arts events still go on, or have they been cancelled as well? I have tickets to some.

Is this Marvin Ausherman deciding he wants to control all of this?

Why should the YMCA suddenly become an arts association?

oldmagpie11

"Is this Marvin Ausherman deciding he wants to control all of this?"
We may never know. MA hustled the Artomatic folks out of 113 Church in May so it would be empty when it changed hands (tax records say October). The present owner of 113 Church is a shell LLC whose resident agent is an attorney. MA filed for divorce in July and those records were sealed before the ink was dry in December.
It's all too murky ...

ckehne

I agree. The arts education programs in Frederick need to be run and dedicated to arts personal who understand visual and performing arts. How can a sports program be the answer, Mr. Ausherman? There is always the Delaplaine Center. They do provide arts education classes, run professionally.

bpswp

What does it cost for a young person to participate in a Y program? Check it out.

ranedae

It depends on the program, of course. But the Y is focused primarily on traditional Athletics rather than arts and performance, though the dance and gymnastics programs straddle that line (see what I did there?). Among the classes cancelled where day off school programs where kids could write and perform a play on a day, and learn film making and circus arts. New Spire also provided wonderful adult programs including bellydance, ASL, acting, storytelling and circus arts. Those offerings were not available elsewhere which is part of what was so exciting about New Spire and why I'm so devastated by their action to end these programs with no notice.

I think it's very fishy that jobs would be considered "duplicates" to Y staffing since the Y does not own or run New Spire and "no decisions have been made" regarding the use of 113 E Church, the later a blatant lie as they decided to cancel all programs and refused us an option to rent the space.

It's clear to me that the actions of the board are in direct conflict to their mission and should be investigated. What are they doing with Ausherman Foundation money? Why is another great building being left empty when there are lots of people who are more than happy to use it?

BlueFredneck

If the program was hemorrhaging money, fine, but you shouldn't provide

hbmindy

My guess is they are out of money. They had no idea how much the church street building was going to cost to rehab. They were in over their heads on day 1.

I imagine they're pulling out of the education side to try to have enough funds to try to keep the performance venue from collapsing too.

KMRD1

And stuff like this happening is why employees of the Y are quitting cause there is no direction going on there at the Y

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