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State's largest contemporary art center merges with Ferris State University

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
A visitor to the UICA checks out an exhibit at the new building in Grand Rapids.

The Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids has faced significant financialproblems, especially after investing roughly $13 million dollars to move into a new, bigger building in 2011. Operating costs went up and it hasn’t attracted the surge of new donors the UICA has hoped for.

UICA Board President Kathryn Chaplow says it was in danger of closing after 36 years of operation.

“Moving into this new location made everything very different for the organization at a financial level, at an operating level. So if a solution was not found then there was the possibility that the UICA would have to consider that option,” Chaplow said, “I wouldn’t say we bit off more than we could chew, but it was a big bite.”

Chaplow says the board considered selling off or leasing some of the floors in its new building.

The building is paid off. It’s valued at $8 million as part of the merger, Ferris State University officials said.

The UICA board will dissolve. But it'll still have some autonomy as a subsidiary of Ferris State’s Kendall College of Art and Design.

FSU President Dave Eisler says they’ll provide roughly a million dollars to back the UICA over the next few years as the institute works to pay down its deficit. FSU will cover $4 million dollars of UICA’s debt as part of the deal.

Eisler says the UICA is a “natural outgrowth” of Kendall.

“When you think about colleges of art and design what they do is create art. This is a building that’s about creating art. So there’s a lot of natural synergies here,” Eisler said.

There will be some crossover of staff at the two organizations. FSU will take over basic operational functions. UICA Executive Director Miranda Krajniak says that’ll free more time for staff to “take ourselves seriously.”

“The UICA has historically always had a very lean staff,” Krajniak said. She says she’s staffed the front desk on the weekends at times. “We have staff members who are incredibly educated and have the talent but because we’re so bogged down with our operations, have been unable to really take themselves seriously as professionals.” Krajniak said.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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