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Friday, 23 August 2013 10:49

UICA to merge with Ferris State University’s Kendall College

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Officials from the UICA, Kendall College of Art & Design and Ferris State University discuss the merger at a press conference this morning. Officials from the UICA, Kendall College of Art & Design and Ferris State University discuss the merger at a press conference this morning. Photo: Joe Boomgaard

GRAND RAPIDS — The board of trustees at Ferris State University today signed an agreement to merge the nonprofit Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts into the school's Kendall College of Art and Design.

The transition closes what's been a rocky chapter for the UICA, which earlier this year MiBiz reported was $3.9 million in debt.

Under the arrangement, the UICA will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Kendall, itself a part of Ferris State. While it will have the back office and operational support of the university, the UICA will operate as an "auxiliary enterprise" of Kendall College.

While the UICA had been struggling, it has recently started to restructuring in preparation for the merger, officials said. The organization hired a new executive director, Miranda Krajniak, as well as a full-time curator, and brought new leadership to its film program.

David Rosen, president of Kendall College, said the plan is for the UICA to become self-sustaining in the next three to five years through a combination of the restructuring, new programming and allowing staff to focus on running the organization, rather than on keeping the doors open.

A last-minute push to donors brought down the UICA's debt to about $1 million, which Ferris State assumes as it brings the organization under its fiduciary responsibility, FSU President Dave Eisler told MiBiz. He said covering the debt is just a short-term solution to a long-term issue.

"What's more challenging is (for the UICA) to find sustainability for its budget ... which was not balanced," Eisler said. "The staff are competent and right-sized the budget, and now they need to plan new (sources) of revenue. There's a lot of possibilities. What we provide is the infrastructure and systems and they can focus on their core.


"There was a little opportunity cost for us to get involved with it, but when you look at how we're investing in the community, this will generate more in returns than we've ever invested."

Under the new agreement, Kendall College will cover any shortfalls that UICA incurs as it continues its transformation, said Rosen, who wrote the business plan for the merger and brought it to Eisler and the Ferris State board. The organization's revenue will be reinvested in its current operations, he said.

Ferris State board chair Gary Granger said the move made sense from a cultural, organizational and financial standpoint and fit with the push for social entrepreneurship in the greater West Michigan area. He likened it to UICA graduating from its startup phase to a more stable period in which staff can now focus on growth.

Krajniak said the UICA is re-evaluating its membership and programming structures to better reflect the needs of the community, which could include a greater emphasis on families while still pushing artistic boundaries. She said while UICA will now be part of the university and Kendall College, it will remain focused on being "a place for the community, not just students." It wants to continue to find new ways to grow membership, she said.

One key change for the UICA: making programming or film schedules more reliable.

The facilities offers what's currently the only movie theater in downtown Grand Rapids.

While the UICA's board of directors will be dissolving because of the merger, current board president Kathryn Chaplow said the directors and some key donors will be encouraged and cajoled to join a new advisory committee that will help guide the organization's future planning.

Much of the 36-year-old UICA's struggles were related to its move into the $8 million facility at 2 East Fulton Street just as the recession hit, which taxed its ability to recruit new members and gain solid financial footing, officials said.

Chaplow said the board considered a range of options, including partnering with other organizations or even closing as a last resort.

"This was not a quick conclusion," she said of the decision to merge with Kendall College. "But it is a wonderful, happy story with a beautiful ending.

"If a solution was not found, we would have had to consider (closing) ... but we would not have gone down without a huge fight."

Read 4165 times Last modified on Friday, 30 August 2013 13:46

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