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In Nashua, Legal Battle Brewing Over $1 Million In Arts Funding

C. Hanchey via Flickr CC.

There’s a legal battle brewing in the city of Nashua over $1 million in arts funding.

A nonprofit Nashua Center for the Arts filed a petition in court this month to dissolve the organization. It wants to send the money left in its trust to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, but officials in Nashua are trying to stop that from happening to keep the money in the city.

Nashua Telegraph reporter Damien Fisher joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about his coverage of the story.

What is the Nashua Center for the Arts?

No one’s really quite sure. They’ve been around since 1961 when they were first dedicated to the promotion of arts and sciences in the city of Nashua. They had a space on Spring Street in a house where they had exhibits. Sometime in the 1990s, it dissolved after falling on financial hard times. It was dormant for a while, then in 2003, when the Nashua Charitable Trust merged with the New Hampshire Charitable Trust, there was this money left over from the will of a woman named Edith Carter. She had given about $200,000 to the Nashua Charitable Trust to promote arts in the city. So it was decided to revive the Nashua Center for the Arts so it could manage this money. Today, that money is over $900,000, and I’m not sure exactly what they’ve doing with it. Checking their tax records, they’ve been giving a little of money here and there to groups like the Rotary Club and the Boys and Girls Club. I’m sure they’re worthy endeavors, but I’m not sure what they had to do with the promotion of arts in the city.

Why are they dissolving? Have they given a reason?

Their reason is as long as there is the Currier Museum in Manchester and the SEE Science Center in Manchester, according to their court filings, there’s no reason for them to exist. They should just send the money up there and those organizations, specifically the Currier, can program arts for Nashua.

What’s been the reaction in the city?

This has not been a popular move. Mayor Jim Donchess is having the city attorney file in court to basically stop this. They would like to see the Nashua Center for the Arts reformed again, with the new board dedicated to funding arts in the city. There is an arts and culture infrastructure in Nashua. Symphony NH is located in Nashua. You’ve got the Peacock Players. Great American Downtown does a lot for the arts. There are a number of organizations that really could be promoting the arts in Nashua.

Are there people saying we need to somehow funnel the money to those organizations?

Well, they’d like to see a new Nashua Center for the Arts handling this money and granting it to the organizations that are there. When I looked at their tax records, they gave to the Nashua Sculpture Symposium and they gave some money to Symphony NH, but those are the only two major arts organizations they donated to on a regular basis. Talking to folks in the arts community in Nashua, this group really hasn’t been a player. This move took people by surprise mostly because I think a lot of folks didn’t know the Nashua Center for the Arts existed and that this money was there.

Has anyone questioned this organization and asked why they haven’t done more with this money?

They have not responded to any requests to speak about this so far, except through their court filings.

Has the Currier said what it would do with this money to help Nashua?

They have not, but according to the agreement in the court filings I’ve seen, they would be interested in putting on exhibits in Nashua, making some grants to Nashua organizations, and having programming up in Manchester for Nashua residents.

What’s the next step?

The next step is up to the probate court to decide whether to allow the Nashua Center for the Arts to dissolve and send the money up to Manchester, or whether it will agree with the city and keep the organization going as an entity in Nashua funding Nashua arts.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.

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