The Boocoo Cultural Center and Cafe’s Sunday afternoon fundraising event was about more than just accepting donations.
The event was an opportunity for supporters to engage in an honest discussion about the surrounding neighborhood, what Boocoo’s presence means to Evanston’s 5th Ward, and how the center can reorganize to remain open and become vibrant.
Located at the intersection of Church Street and Dodge Avenue, across the street from Evanston Township High School, Boocoo is a combination coffeehouse, eatery, recording studio, meeting space, music and dance school, garden, live-performance stage and art gallery that opened in July 2007, but .
The fundraiser failed to bring in large donations, though, as a silent auction netting $939 and a donation box containing several hundred dollars in cash and checks accumulated much less than the $10,000 to $15,000 goal Boocoo Administrator Alicia Hempfling said the center wanted.
Still, many attendees said they viewed the event as a success since it provided a forum to discuss how Boocoo could be both reassessed and reorganized.
Daniel Cheifetz, director of Enterprise Development Foundation, the Evanston-based nonprofit that owns Boocoo, announced Sunday that he had formed a Boocoo executive management group whose responsibilities will include determining new marketing strategies, finding new funding sources and creating partnerships with other Evanston institutions, community groups and nonprofits.
“They will provide oversight and strategy over the next three months to figure out a plan for this to be truly sustainable,” Cheifetz said. “And they’ll work to support [Boocoo Administrator Alicia Hempfling] on day-to-day things.”
Cheifetz said that when the planning process is finished, Boocoo will implement some changes immediately, but also noted that any transformation will be a gradual one, as Boocoo currently lacks the financing to make sweeping adjustments.
However, there could soon be an influx of new funding sources, as Cheifetz said the board will discuss seeking out grants that could help the center provide free or subsidized classes to youth on a needs basis.
by failing to seek out grants through Enterprise Development Foundation, saying that Boocoo could not apply for such funding on its own since it is limited liability company and not a nonprofit. The former directors also said Cheifetz was difficult to contact and routinely made late payments to vendors and contractors.
A woman at Sunday’s event, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that she had recently tried to contact several “community funding organizations” to inquire about whether they could help Boocoo, but that all responded that they could not provide grants to the center because it lacked nonprofit status.
While Cheifetz admitted that he had not sought out grant funding in the past, he said that the center has always been able to receive donations and grants made out to Enterprise Development Foundation and earmarked for Boocoo.
“It’s incredible that we’ve done such a poor job having people understand that Boocoo sits under a [nonprofit organization] and that if you want to support it you can,” Cheifetz said. “[They executive management group] will provide a way for there to be transparency about Boocoo.”
Improving communication with the Evanston community will be another goal of the newly-formed board.
Both Mabie and Sirota said that Boocoo had an identity problem, trying to be too many things at once, and that it was easy to see why Evanston residents could be confused about the space’s core purpose.
Cheifetz said he agreed that Boocoo lacked a clear identity, and hence was difficult to market, but that simple changes, such as new signage and increased outreach, could go a long way to convincing Evanston’s youth that Boocoo is more than just a place to take art classes, but could also be a location to hangout and foster creativity.
Yvonne Smith, one of four executive management group members, said that the board will also attempt to improve communications with the neighborhood and determine how the center can best serve the surrounding area by asking locals what classes and services residents want and need.
Jump-starting a discussion about Boocoo’s potential is exactly what the center needs, said Jeremiah Bell, a Boocoo recording studio engineer and trumpet teacher who commented on the lack of unfamiliar faces at Sunday’s fundraiser. Bell said that center supporters had to do a better job of engaging others in dialogue about Boocoo to spread word of the space around town.
“You guys aren’t the ones that need convincing and I’ve seen a lot of your faces before and most of you are already supporters,” Bell said during an address at Sunday’s event. “I think Boocoo needs a lot more word of mouth from the people that are supporters…We need to know what [Evanston residents] like so that we can appeal to them.”
While Sunday’s fundraiser was far from sparsely attended, most present had some existing affiliation with the center.
Mayor Tisdahl and Ald. Delores Holmes (5th Ward) spoke at the fundraiser, both saying the city was working in some capacity with Boocoo and Cheifetz to help save the cultural center, though neither offered details on the nature of their assistance.
“Right across the street from the high school, Boocoo is absolutely critical and this neighborhood is important to the City,” Tisdahl said in an address to event attendees. ”So, the City of Evanston wants Boocoo to thrive and do well, and as of all of you are going to work to have Boocoo thrive and do well, I promise you, so am I.”
Cheifetz said that Boocoo would continue fundraising efforts over the coming months.
The executive management board will comprise Yvonne Smith, David Lee, Lonnie Wilson and Daniel Cheifetz.