BRISTOL BOROUGH >> The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has necessitated the Board of Directors of Raising the Bar to change direction, like so many other businesses.
After revisiting its mission and goals, RTB has decided to close the Centre for the Arts and to pursue other ways to enhance the economic recovery of Bristol Borough.
Although the Center for the Arts has been a keystone in the revitalization of Mill Street, the COVID-19 crisis took an enormous toll on the functioning of the gallery. Over the past year the COVID-associated economic downturn caused art sales to plummet and state mandated crowd size restrictions made it impossible to continue monthly special exhibits.
The Centre survived from artists’ leases of wall space. With the decline in sales, many artists, feeling their own economic pinch, could no longer justify paying their gallery rent without seeing a reasonable return on their investment and understandably chose to leave the gallery.
In addition, the gallery was staffed and administered entirely by volunteers. Most of them were senior citizens who wisely elected to isolate rather than risk infection.
"For the past five years since we opened, we spent zero dollars on staffing and administration," said Ronald V. McGuckin, Esq., of Raising the Bar. "This summer and fall, for the first time, we used Raising the Bar funds to pay school interns to staff the gallery in place of the volunteers, but that arrangement was not fiscally sustainable.
"Through all of this, we were still faced with the fixed costs of our mortgage, taxes, utilities, insurance and building maintenance," he continued. "Given the convergence of these factors, it was no longer fiscally possible to continue the current building use."
The Raising the Bar board has entered into a long-term lease with the Itri Woodfired restaurant next door to expand their operation and provide RTB with the revenue to not only meet its financial responsibilities, but to provide it with surplus income to pursue other goals of Raising the Bar.
"Dana Pezza, the owner of itri, has rented 50-percent of the gallery space since the Centre opened, making it a logical and smooth transition for both of us, a board in need of a tenant and a restaurant wishing to expand," said McGuckin.
"As for our artists and volunteers, we salute the talent and passion they displayed over the years and cherish the friendships we’ve cultivated," he said. "We’re exploring the possibility of funding a virtual, state-of-the-art gallery available to our artists to allow for on-line sales and exhibits.
"We set out to advance the arts in Lower Bucks County and are proud of the five years we devoted to the effort and pleased that other artist outlets have grown since," said McGuckin.
"Moving forward, we’re excited to devote our efforts to placing greater emphasis on what has always been a prime goal of RTB, to facilitate private-public partnerships to attract investment and new enterprises in Historic Bristol Borough.
"If we’ve learned anything from the COVID crisis, it is the necessity to adapt in order to survive," said McGuckin. "We believe this arrangement will give us the financial stability necessary to continue our work while supporting local business. We’ve also learned that although the public appreciated the fact that we opened a gallery, that interest was not matched by visits or purchases.
"Conversely," he said, "borough residents have demonstrated a keen interest in an on-going public art/ mural program. Utilizing a public/private partnership, we’ve seen the creation of two murals and are excited about two more that are in the works. There is a talented arts community in the Borough, and Raising the Bar is committed to supporting it in ways that are evolving."