VCA’s Response to Article in the Beachcomber

A recent article and Op-Ed in the Beachcomber questions choices made by VCA Board and Staff in mid to late 2014 related to building our building. In these past months I have had the opportunity to speak extensively with all the people involved (other than Ms. White but including her attorney) including Debra Twersky at 4Culture and Senator Sharon D. Nelson (both quoted in the article).  I have read all the documents. Based on all of that, I would like to share some of the thinking that guided those choices.

To back up for a moment, it feels important to recall the energy and work that went into this project. It was truly a massive commitment of time and energy by a succession of board members, community volunteers and a small group of staff that stretched from 2008 to 2016.  These people are our island friends and neighbors and the grit, determination, and love they brought to the project over eight years is really remarkable.  Many communities and organizations have started projects like this and not completed them.  It is a credit to our community that we pulled this off.

One of those friends and neighbors was Katherine L White, a wonderful woman who dedicated a lot of money to help make this project happen.  If you knew her, you knew Kay to be a modest, intelligent person who valued her privacy.  She allowed her name to become more visible when her 2008 Trust began to play a big role in public discussions.

By the summer of 2014, a growing list of concerns pushed the Board and staff to find a way to begin the building. Construction costs were rising rapidly (and continue to rise to this day). The staff and Board did not believe VCA could be sure state money would continue to be available. Perhaps most importantly, we did not know how much longer Kay would be with us.

Kay had committed the majority of her wealth to this project.  She wanted to hear music in the building she had been visualizing for many years, even before the 2008 Trust was created. It was a reasonable desire for a 93-year-old woman who ultimately donated nearly $12 million to see her dream a reality.

It was Kay’s decision to restructure her 2008 Trust. In doing so, she was able to provide the cash VCA needed to start the project and to assure her personal financial needs would be met for the rest of her life . . .  the two objectives of her 2008 Trust. It was also her clear desire not to make her choice public.

People have asked why VCA did not discuss this decision openly. Two reasons. The first is it was Kay’s money and that was her direction. The second is the Board and Staff were confident there would be significant financial resources available once construction was complete to help sustain the building and the organization.  This proved to be a solid assumption.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know there are things we might have done differently. VCA is a big part of Vashon and it is clear we need to create constructive dialog around our important decisions.

There are some specific things I also want to make note of:

  • After Kay’s death, the VCA Board made the decision to apply proceeds from her estate to pay down our building loan. This is the reason our financial resources are a bit less than $4 million vs $6 million. But for an astonishing last minute increase in building costs, we likely would have that and more today.
  • People have expressed concerns about ticket prices.  In 2017, we sold 11,833 tickets for 79 shows. The average ticket price for 90% of our shows was $20. Member prices are typically lower than that. For many events, prices have remained unchanged for years. Volunteers get in free. Many events are free.
  • The shows that cost more?  In some cases, those are fund raisers like kd lang.  In others, they are national acts like Judy Collins, David Grisman, Matisyahu, Indigo Girls, Leo Kottke and others, nearly all of which typically sell out within days, sometimes hours.  It seems we have an audience for these kinds of shows.
  • Last year we offered 96 arts classes, in all the arts apart from dance, with 790 students enrolled and 45 local artists/instructors employed. A large percent of our students are on scholarship.
  • Vashon Artists in the Schools offered 23 residencies to 1199 Vashon students, employed 22 artists, and conducted 12 exhibits of student work. Our biggest and best year yet.
  • In 2017, we showed in our gallery 564 pieces by more than 100 Vashon artists.
  • Through our Vashon Center for Dance, we offered 30 weekly dance classes and 6 dance camps to 153 enrolled students. About half of those students receive a scholarship for their dance classes.

This last point is an important one.  Through the great generosity of our donors, we are able to offer financial assistance to 100% of the people who want to take a class, any class we offer, but don’t have the money to do so.

Vashon Center for the Arts is the largest non-profit on Vashon Island. We touch a lot of lives. We don’t always get things right, but we’re listening and learning so we can do better.

From the beginning of this process, through to this day, the people involved with the project, our friends and neighbors, acted with integrity, good faith, thoughtfulness and positive intent.

The building was built.  Capital was preserved.  We are delivering against our mission. We are working every day to make what goes on at VCA inviting, vital, relevant, and accessible to as big a portion of our community as we can.

Kevin Hoffberg | Executive Director

This is the third blog I have written on the building of the building.  You can find the other posts here and here.

You can listen to an interview I did with Jeff and Cindy Hoyt on Morning Scramble, Voice of Vashon on June 22 here.

4 replies
  1. Priscilla O'Banion
    Priscilla O'Banion says:

    Could you please outline the ‘astonishing last minute cost increases’ for this project.
    Sellen is the largest company in Seattle with huge negotiating power for materials,
    and a large in-house labor pool. They would have been able to estimate any cost overages
    as large as the ones you talk about.

    Please be specific, the community deserves this answer.

    Also, assuming your house capacity is 300, it seems that with 79 performances, and 11,000 tickets sold, there is
    quite a gap in potential revenue. And how much was raised by the K.D. Lang concert? Word on the street is that
    tickets were given away….

    Thanks, Kevin!

    • Kevin Hoffberg
      Kevin Hoffberg says:

      Thanks for your note Priscilla

      The story of the rise in construction costs is detailed in a blog I published in April here. We discussed this point with Ms. Shepherd as well. Sellen was as shocked as anyone, maybe more, because it was their estimates that gone blown up.

      As an aside, framing lumber costs in Seattle have doubled in the space of a year. The updraft in prices hasn’t let up.

      You are right to observe we have “capacity”. 2017 was our first full year operating in the new theater and we’re still learning. It is certainly our intention to increase our programming across all content types: music, education, theater, opera, etc.

      The kd lang concert was a success. The net gate was about $50,000 which we split with Land Trust. It is also true we were able to give tickets to people who have been longtime teachers and volunteers at VCA and volunteers who have done so much for Land Trust. If the purpose was to benefit both organizations, and it was, then I think the combination of money and gratitude to longtime supporters met the mark.

  2. Priscilla O'Banion
    Priscilla O'Banion says:

    Thank you, Kevin.

    I have given thousands of dollars in the past to VAA. And I have read all of your blogs with deep interest.
    However, your April blog does not answer any of my specific concerns. And, there are many people who are not
    speaking up, but instead are saying they are done giving money to VCA. This is a community problem. And it
    is your problem as Executive Director. And the problem of the VCA Board.

    In order to restore the faith of this community, and especially the donors, I believe it is important that VCA put out
    an analysis of the project, summarizing estimated vs actual costs in the following areas:

    . Site planning and Development
    . Foundation
    . Framing
    . Roofing
    . Window package
    . Electrical
    . Heating system
    . Interior build-out
    . Finishes

    . Labor costs
    . SELLEN net profit

    Total estimate at project start
    Total Spent at project completion

    I believe you should conduct a 2nd Town Hall with the above discussion, opening up a forum where Island past and present
    donors can express their concerns.

    Simply saying that materials went up does not justify an almost doubling in price of a project. I am certain that the largest
    construction company in Seattle would have some savvy about the cost index of materials in the area, and they have
    a large in- house labor pool so would be able to control those costs. I want to know how the project changed in scope and how
    it was mitigated by the VCA Board. It speaks to the Board’s ability to manage, and that is the concern in the community. I am
    not seeking to blame any one party, I just know the project overruns were not simply due to materials cost increases.

    I am a 45 year resident of Vashon. Prior to selling my privately held company I was the Development Officer for the Seattle
    Symphony and Pacific NW Ballet. In addition I chaired the most critical initial campaigns for the Land Trust, allowing them to protect
    the Shinglemill and Fisher Pond, purchase their building, Christensen Pond, and the initial phase of Island Center Forest. Those
    early campaigns were spirited, community- wide and fun. They set the tone of legitimacy for the Land Trust which today enjoys huge
    success in part because of their history and their transparency. And, it is great that the Land Trust received $21,000+ and not the $25,000 that you reference from the K.D. Lang concert.

    Donors count on fiscal management and not spin. The donors are watching and hoping for success for VCA. I believe a higher
    level of transparency, ownership of cost overruns and a firm revenue generating plan could help restore faith in the organization.
    When that revenue generating plan is developed, it should be made public. If the organization simply thinks it can say “the building is
    built and let’s move forward” will solve the problem, that is not correct. An underlying lack of trust will remain. If the same people
    on the same Board are approaching problems the same way -behind closed doors -the situation will not get better.

    I am normally not a blogger. I see no comments around your other blogs. Perhaps they have been removed? Thank you for taking my comments, and I sincerely hope for a detailed report in reference to my categories above. These are my last comments/suggestions.

    Thank, Kevin.


    • Kevin Hoffberg
      Kevin Hoffberg says:

      Priscilla. Thank you for your detailed comments and suggestions. We have taken all of them onboard and will consider the best path forward.


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