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Clay Center launches $45K fund-raising campaign

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By Lynn Burton

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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An anonymous donor has pledged up to $45,000 in matching funds to the Carbondale Clay Center so the non-profit can pay off a $90,000 loan and concentrate on looking ahead.

“We’re excited (about the campaign) … so our future can start,” said Carbondale Clay Center Executive Director Jill Oberman. “It’s hard to go to donors … apply for grants … raise money for building improvements when we’re saddled with debt.”

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Since the mid-1990s, the Carbondale Clay Center, located in a cinder block building, has anchored the east end of Main Street. Inside, the center operates four electric kilns and three gas kilns for students, the public, residents and professional potters. The center also operates a gallery where ceramic works of art are offered on a rotating basis year ‘round. They organize 11 ceramics shows a year and also offer four non-paid residencies per year to potters who come to Carbondale from around the United States.

“Some move to Carbondale and stay forever,” said Oberman, who is the only full-time paid staffer.

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Last spring though, the Clay Center board and staff decided to hold a forum to discuss the future because it seemed that energy for events and programming was waning and they were attracting “the same small crowd.” The forum, held from 4 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 16, attracted 36 people through invitation and word-of-mouth to the Carbondale Library’s community room.

“The room worked great,” Oberman said.

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Oberman started at the center in Sept. 2012 and was director of a similar clay center in Missoula and at one time worked at Anderson Art Ranch. She said the Carbondale Clay Center’s budget annual is $125,000. “It’s as lean as it can be.” Some of the funding comes from memberships, fund-raisers and other activities. She said the center has managed to make its monthly budgets the past few years, and it isn’t worse off financially than the last five or six, but things are really tight.

The staff and board are working on specifics for the fund-raising campaign but they’ll be promoting it at the December First Friday and their annual cup auction (see Calendar in this week’s Sun for details). Board members, supporters and staffers will also be making personal contact with potential donors.

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“No donation is too small … I think the number is doable. We’ve never asked for this kind of help … I’m super confident we can make it.”

And if the $45,000 goal isn’t reached? Oberman said the center won’t immediately close its doors but the board might have to decide whether the community wants the center to continue operating.

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“Myself and others are passionate about clay,” Oberman said. “We think that with what we have, others will be too.”

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