By David Zupan
Thousands of events, gatherings and friendships have happened in the W.O.W. Hall since the Woodmen of the World built their new Woodcraft home in 1932.
When the historic building’s future was threatened in 1975, hundreds of volunteers raised the funds to purchase, preserve and re-energize the WOW Hall through the creation of the nonprofit Community Center for the Performing Arts (CCPA). A diverse array of programs blossomed, including dance, theater, music, multicultural productions and meetings of ground-breaking organizations such as Hoedads and the Oregon Country Fair.
Over the decades, the WOW Hall became our creative community’s focal point for cutting-edge art and entertainment. As the CCPA evolved, hundreds of youth and volunteers received valuable training and experience, in some cases leading to exemplary professional careers in the arts. Years of effort by volunteers and thinly stretched staff of the unique membership-based organization created a tax-exempt community treasure, free of secured payable debt with a substantial emergency reserve fund.
In recent years, however, the WOW Hall’s strong organizational profile has been reversed. In early March, prior to the pandemic shutdown, the CCPA treasurer announced the organization could not make payroll with minus $13 cash on hand. For 10 years, the WOW Hall has lost thousands annually leading recent CCPA boards to spend down the organization’s reserves to make payroll.
The emergency reserve account went from $70,169 in June 2018 to $1,559 by February 2020. Revenue projections were missed by large percentages. Monthly financial success began to be measured by reduction of loss rather than gain. Once the home of a vital, diverse and multifaceted array of cultural activities, the production of primarily commercial music shows has taken priority over most of the hall’s other activities, frequently at a financial loss.
Recently the WOW Hall received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan and a state grant designed to aid Oregon’s venues. While some may see these funds as rescuing the CCPA from financial disaster, it is important to recognize their short-term impact. Under its current operational model, with full staffing it costs approximately $34,000 per month to operate the facility. Approximately $20,000 of that figure represents payroll. If the emergency funds are employed on that basis, they will provide approximately 3.6 months of operation.
What happens when the emergency funding ends? We believe that the democratic governance structure mandated in the CCPA’s bylaws provides the mechanisms needed for CCPA members to forge a more financially sustainable future for the WOW Hall and foster its renewal as an economically accessible platform for local artists and organizations.
Friends of the WOW Hall believes the CCPA must once again operate as a performing arts-oriented community center, proactively serving all ages including youth, adults and seniors. It should serve as a meeting place for community organizations and groups, especially those engaged in fighting for social justice and equality. Its financial management should be modest, focused on the concept of “giving back” through a community service orientation in operations. The CCPA should manage the hall’s finances without incurring debt or encumbering the property. The WOW Hall’s historic status must be preserved through proper maintenance and restoration.
The CCPA’s community-controlled governance model enables each of us to share in the stewardship and rebirth of this shared community institution. In the next two weeks, CCPA members can exercise their governance responsibilities by attending three important online meetings:
1. 3 pm Sunday, Aug. 2: Special General Membership Meeting addressing significant deviations from the CCPA’s member-approved annual budget and viable financial models going forward.
2. 7 pm Tuesday, Aug. 4: Candidates Forum in which candidates for the CCPA Board of Directors will tell why they should be elected and take questions from members.
3. 3 pm Sunday, Aug.9: Annual General Membership Meeting in which membership will approve a new CCPA policy statement, the FY 2020-21 budget and elect at least seven new members to the CCPA Board of Directors for two year terms.
If you love the WOW Hall, please join your neighbors at the meetings listed above to ensure continued community ownership of this treasured resource. The historic Woodmen of the World Hall belongs to all of us!
David Zupan was a 2008 WOW Hall board member and a founding member of Friends of WOW Hall, which began in March 2020.