Save the W.O.W. Hall, Our Community Center for the Performing Arts
The Woodmen of the World Hall stands at the corner of 8th & Lincoln in Eugene, Oregon. The W.O.W. Hall has been a historic part of Eugene’s cultural landscape since 1932. Memories of events, gatherings and friendships across generations were re-energized in 1975 when volunteers raised money to buy and preserve the downtown landmark through the creation of the nonprofit Community Center for the Performing Arts. Diverse programming such as theater, modern dance performances, multicultural productions, all genres of music plus meetings and gatherings for Hoedads, the Oregon Country Fair and other iconic groups brought enthusiastic energy to the community-based facility. For many years the W.O.W. Hall has hosted cutting edge art and entertainment while providing hundreds of young people and volunteers valuable training and experience.
Recently the W.O.W. Hall has fallen on hard times. An organization that had no debt, paid no taxes and carried substantial emergency financial reserves is now financially broken and struggling to survive. How did this happen? To answer that question a number of operative factors need examination. Currently the pandemic crisis has shut down large gatherings of all kinds, allowing this to be the time to create proactive, sustainable solutions.
The last ten years have not been kind to the W.O.W. Hall. Its operation has lost thousands of dollars each year. Recently its board of directors began spending the cash reserves to make payroll. In June, 2018, the emergency reserve account had $70,169. A year later the reserve balance was $34,886. By February, 2020, the balance was $1,559. Revenues deviated downward from budget projections by large percentages. Once a venue for a wide spectrum of diverse performing arts and educational activities, the W.O.W. Hall played a vital role in Eugene's cultural scene. More recently, production of primarily commercial music shows has taken precedence over most of the Hall's other activities, often costing more than budgeted for these events. Friends of the W.O.W. Hall believe the facility needs to be more than a commercial dance hall.
The required practice of holding the annual meeting to elect the Board of Directors and a Special General Membership Meeting to address significant budget deviations has been derailed by the current Board. Similarly the transparent governance process mandated by the CCPA's by-laws has sometimes been circumvented. Attendance at the Annual Membership meeting has declined as candid communication with the membership has diminished.
Friends of the W.O.W. Hall has been working to restore the flow of information that will enable the meaningful participation of the members. In the CCPA structure, the membership is the controlling body of the organization. The CCPA’s democratic process provides an essential tool for securing this valuable community owned resource if we use it.
The CCPA needs to be the performing arts oriented community center that has been promised. The W.O.W. Hall should serve and include all ages, children, youth, adults and seniors. The building is owned, and its nonprofit and historic designations are in place. The W.O.W. Hall needs to return to its role as an accessible platform for artists and organizations within our community and for the realization of their projects and creative work. The CCPA should conduct its business modestly with the intent of being able to "give back" to the community. It should serve as a gathering place and meeting space for groups within our community especially those concerned with justice and equality. The Hall should should and can remain clear of debt or encumbrance with renewed community support. The CCPA's community- controlled governance model enables each of us to play an important role in the regeneration of this shared treasure.
We invite other concerned citizens to join our efforts. A special community meeting will be held on Sunday, June 28th, 3-4 pm to discuss the WOW Hall budget and its future via Zoom. For instructions on joining the meeting, go to www.friendsofwowhall.org or call 541-484-9167.
David Zupan Friends of W.O.W. Hall