Key West, Key West events/festivals

Open letter to keep TSKW at the Armory

I, like many others, am passionate about The Studios Key West (TSKW). So much so that this organization played a role in our decision to relocate to Key West on a full-time basis, acting, in many ways as a cultural/artistic resource center, showing the best that this city has to offer.

The Armory is one of Key West’s top destinations substantially because of the incredible work done by TSKW. Instead of being another quaint reminder of Key West’s past it is alive, a vibrant hub of the artistic community that invites participation from everyone. It is a feat of incredible dexterity to satisfy the expectations of day-trippers, snowbirds and full-time residents of our tiny burg and do this with elegance and ease. Something is always going on. The open-door inclusive spirit reflects the best this town has to offer. Never do you get the feeling that you must tread lightly, having entered an inner sanctum where expertise or wealth are the only currency. And they do this with few paid staff, a tribe of dedicated volunteers and a very supportive community. In essence they are the embodiment of the stated mission of the Historic Florida Keys Foundation (HFKF). Are they being penalized somehow for their success? I really don’t understand any rationale for paying more that fair market value in a building that would be almost impossible to lease in the present economic climate.

Lapses of reason seem glaringly obvious in the stalemate between TSKW and HFKF.  Rental and other housing arrangements entered into in 2006 (the apex of the housing bubble) between TSKW and HFKF in no way reflect the economic realities of 2012 and any reasonable agency is open to ongoing contractual modifications. Renovation and other costly improvements to the Armory building and environs illustrate TSKW’s goodwill and long-term commitment to the property.

Amongst the facts that both parties acknowledge: each sought appraisals to determine fair market rent. As expected, TSKW’s came in low ($7,875 per month) and HFKF’s came in high ($11,500 per month). A third appraisal could have been ordered by either party but neither sought it out. TSKW moved to split the difference between the figures making it $9685.50. Instead HFKF returned with a figure even higher than their own appraisal by $5,200 a year. TSKW refused and offered to return to negotiating.  HFKF refused then accused TSKW of asking for handouts, stating that they should “rise to the occasion and do what has to be done to save their organization.” Melissa Kendrick, board chair of HFKF, has also stated that the HFKF has “forgiven $220,000” already, which sounds like a debt, and as if they were philanthropic to their non- profit when in fact they were never in debt to them. Rather than this insulting rhetoric from HFKF, I would like to hear public justification for why they feel they are entitled to push TSKW out unless they cough up rent that is higher than their own estimate. I am also not surprised that the rent estimate has risen. TSKW spent a lot of money to renovate the building. Should this be their reward?  Slapped upside the head with a huge increase?

In some ways, this struggle has become a flash point – reflecting the struggle of renters all over this island, the landlord in the catbird seat. But landlords everywhere, commercial or residential usually recognize a great tenant and act accordingly. I commend Rosi Ware , past President of the TSKW board, for her willingness to open the books, make everything public. She has shown true leadership in this struggle. Were negotiations just a ruse on the part of HFKF?  It begs the question. I wonder if they already have a potential tenant in mind or some sort of restructuring plan in the works.  It just doesn’t pass the smell test that anyone would toss out an almost perfect tenant – one who, by the way, is the very embodiment of the HFKF’s stated mission.

Many of TSKW’s exhibitions do not generate any income whatsoever. Cultural icons in the community like the current Susie dePoo and last year’s Caroline Gorton Fuller, (the bottle lady) exhibition take much time energy and expense to pull together and would not be possible if the studios were squeezed so hard that everything must generate profit. But still, they do make enough to generate to pay their way – so long as it is fair market. The HFKF should be thrilled that they can afford to do what other galleries cannot – showcase the work of historical that may be lost to the public.  It is disingenuous of the HFKF to demand that they do better when the building had previously been used as a boy’s gymnasium. By that logic, the Armory building itself may as well be razed and replaced by pricey condos or better yet, the fast food concerns like the image wending its way through Key West facebook pages. We the community happily share TSKW’s vision by becoming members, taking classes and participating in events, viewing exhibitions, attending concerts, etc. But it is imperative that TSKW remain autonomous to do their best work.

Wherever TSKW lands, it will operate as a beacon to the arts community. The Walk on White will become the walk on Simonton or whatever. And the Armory certainly is an attractive property now – much easier to lease now that it has been brought into pristine condition.

So I ask the HFKF to truly show leadership and a spirit of compromise that all would be in awe of. The HFKF is in a position to show that it is possible for reasonable discourse for the common good. Although TSKW, and the Armory, both will continue independent of each other, most of us love the combination of the two and believe that they are still, in fact, a perfect match.



4 thoughts on “Open letter to keep TSKW at the Armory”

  1. Katie says:

    Your letter brings all the elements that other letter-writers have touched on. Let’s hope there is room for negotiation to take place.

    1. Katie says:

      I need to proofread more closely…

      Your letter brings all the elements TOGETHER that other letter-writers have touched on.

      Ok, I feel better now.

  2. hol says:

    Thank you Jessica,
    Your letter is on point and eloquent, well done!
    Long live TSKW!

  3. Sharon says:

    Key west is listed by Smithsonian magazine this month as one of the top small towns in the U.S.(16th). It is very much due to the prolific art community at the TSKW

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