Sunday, July 15, 2007

Your Memory May Not Keep Me Warm, But It Never Leaves Me Cold


MH and Studs
Originally uploaded by bridgeportseasoning.

In a few hours, my professional obligations to HotHouse will be, for all intents and purposes, finished. Beginning tomorrow I tie up loose ends: bar equipment needs to be inventoried and packed, remaining liquor and supply bills need to be paid, and goodbyes (for now) are said to people I've come to love and respect over the years. My resumes are completed and ready to be dropped like ticker tape all around the city. And I'll be looking to maintain the momentum of new career options and revenue streams that I've worked months to develop.

Right now, though, the only thing I feel is a slight disgust - especially after the actions of some people last Monday night - with how the recent events at HotHouse came to pass, something out of my control that I long resigned myself to witnessing. It was a string of missteps, miscalculations, and errors in judgment.

When people ask me why I stayed at HotHouse for as long as I have, I've always answered (truthfully) that I believe in what the place stands for, even if I didn't necessarily agree with how certain individuals went about achieving those goals. In eight years at HotHouse I've witnessed artists play to adoring crowds leave with a pittance of the door proceeds, their signed contracts either renegotiated on the spot or reneged on; grant money intended for programming go to cover capital expenses; influential people in the arts and business communities given the cold shoulder; questionable accounting practices; bounced checks to vendors, artists, and employees; secrecy over the books; and an almost perverse, hubristic sense of self-entitlement by one person and a close cadre of friends and associates because that one person had the idea to create HotHouse. But I still believe that HotHouse can act as an agent for progressive politics, social justice, fostering positive change, and celebrating the good of humanity through music, culture, and the arts.

Between Marguerite Horberg and the current board of directors, there's more than enough blame to be shared in HotHouse's impending itinerant status. Caught in the middle of the sniping and pointed attacks was the staff that dutifully stayed behind to carry on and try to make something good out of the situation, and mostly because we all believed what I previously wrote about the organization's mission. Once a business manager was hired and started weeding through the tumbleweed that is the HotHouse financials, the gravity of how in the dark Marguerite kept us in the dark regarding the true financial health of the organization chilled us to the bone. Still, we believed that we could right the ship, with crafty booking and increased special events and private rentals. But the hole was too deep for us to lay the groundwork. The full-time office staff stayed until they were told with a nonchalant "sorry, but we're gonna have to lay you off" by the outgoing board president at Christmastime. The rest of us soldiered on in the subsequent, uncertain weeks, unsure if we would make it out of the winter. Many of us, including yours truly, went for months choosing which bills to pay in order to stay afloat. Some of us volunteered our time at HotHouse even after being laid off. None of us lost contact or completely dropped out of sight. We all still chipped in where we could to try to help the organization

It's a small victory that the place stayed open just over a year after Marguerite was removed, which showed to us that it wasn't simply about one person, but the music and mission. Marguerite may have founded the place and been its most visible presence, but its growth and successes were through the hard work and sacrifices of the scores of workers, board members, volunteers, and audiences who passed through the doors over the years. Through the bitter end, the audience has stayed, showing up whenever they know about a show.

The building changed ownership a few months ago, and the desire for the new owner to bring in a tenant who could pay fair market commercial rental value for the space certainly hastened the closing. It's quite possible that Marguerite would have gladly accepted her redefined role in HotHouse overseeing the artistic vision and fundraising, the board would have hired a business manager to keep track of the financials, and this closing still would have happened. It isn't the first time HotHouse has found itself as an itinerant organization, hopefully it will be the last.

Every day that HotHouse exists as an itinerant organization is a day that the cultural fabric of this city suffers. Every moment of energy spent by the board of directors refuting attacks in the media by Marguerite and her small but vocal cult of personality is energy that is better served raising the capital for a new home, or to re-establish ties to the city's arts and music communities, donors and endowments. People who care, truly care, about seeing HotHouse survive need to hold the board of directors to their word that a new home will be found, and soon. Still seething with anger at her ouster, Marguerite is raising funds for a new organization, Partisan Arts International. I think there's room in the city for both, and don't see why both can't coexist, even as rivals.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

i think many chicagoans, among others, are saddened by the loss of HotHouse. I, for one, am kicking myself heartily in the arse for not spending more time giving them my money and my ear.