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SLO Museum of Art suspends plans for new building amid financial challenges 

The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art (SLOMA) is suspending long-discussed plans for a $12 million new building, as its 2-year-old capital campaign missed its targets, resulting in financial instability at the downtown museum.

The museum recently returned a $1 million donation from the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust because it failed to fundraise enough money to meet the stipulations of the grant contract.

click to enlarge HERE TO STAY The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art has called off plans for a new building. Its unsuccessful capital campaign led to financial instability at the organization. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • HERE TO STAY The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art has called off plans for a new building. Its unsuccessful capital campaign led to financial instability at the organization.

Staff and board members say the organization has gone "back to the drawing board" on planning its future. The new proposed building, which had been in the works for almost two decades, would've replaced the current one on Broad Street at the same site.

"We didn't get the lead gifts that we needed," said Ruta Saliklis, who serves as both executive director and curator at SLOMA. "It just became obvious we needed to suspend the capital campaign and re-enter a quiet phase to really look at what we should do next, what the future of this museum is."

Saliklis—SLOMA's director since June 2019 following longtime director Karen Kile's retirement—told New Times that the costs associated with the capital campaign impacted the museum's overall financial standing. Its expenses "took a toll on operations," she said.

"Our reserve funds were drained," she said. "It's just been something that we've been dealing with for the last six months."

By fall of 2019, the museum's finances were in such a state that the city of SLO stepped in to work with its leadership on how to stay afloat. SLOMA leases the property from the city for $1 per year.

"They had an expectation that there would be a new building," Saliklis said. "The city definitely has a vested interest in this."

Deputy City Manager Greg Hermann said in an email to New Times that the city is working with SLOMA and "values the long-standing relationship we have had."

"We've been in communication with them on the current challenges and certainly want them to be successful over the long term," Hermann said.

In October, SLOMA's board adopted an "emergency budget" to cut spending. That's helped stabilize its finances, and in the month of November, the nonprofit operated at net-profit with around $60,000 cash on hand, according to Treasurer Roger Carmody.

"That's a good thing. We seem to be living within our means," Carmody said at a SLOMA board meeting on Jan. 14.

SLOMA still has a ways to go to get out of its financial hole though. It currently can't afford the salary of a permanent executive director, and its staff is taking pay cuts.

Museum leadership says it's turned its focus to charting a successful future for the organization. Growing its membership and donor list, engaging more with the community and understanding its needs, and maintaining its current facility are chief priorities.

"It may be it wasn't the right plan for the community," Saliklis said of SLOMA's unsuccessful attempt at fundraising for a new building. "We really want to make sure we're relevant to the community, that we provide what the community wants. ... If they want to support us a little bit more, now's the time." Δ

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