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Charlotte Art League faces eviction after mass board resignation

The Charlotte Art League is in a precarious position after receiving a notice of eviction from the owner of its building on Raleigh Street.
Nick de la Canal
The Charlotte Art League on Raleigh Street in northeast Charlotte is home to artist studios and a gallery and event space. A podcast studio and green space were also in the works.

The Charlotte Art League, one of the oldest arts organizations in the city, is facing an uncertain future following the resignation of its 13-member board of directors, nearly $200,000 in unpaid rent, and an eviction notice delivered last month.

Member artists learned of the eviction notice through an organization-wide email sent on Feb. 9 that was shared with WFAE.

"In an effort to navigate challenges with full transparency, I also want to inform you that the building landlords gave CAL a verbal notice of eviction earlier this week," Executive Director Jim Dukes wrote in the email.

"This is a fluid and developing situation, and we will do our best to provide updates on the situation as they become available."

The email did not give any move-out date, but said staff and an advisory committee were "investigating other options, should our current space no longer be available."

The message also noted that without a functioning board of directors, "no one at CAL has authority to make decisions about a building, lease, or new location."

Previous board was blindsided by unpaid rent

The nonprofit arts organization, founded in 1965, moved into its cream-colored building on Raleigh Street in 2022, where it has housed artist studios, an art gallery and event space. There were also plans for a podcast studio and a green space in the building.

The organization has been operating without a board of directors since the previous 13-member board collectively resigned last November and December.

Three former board members who spoke with WFAE on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals within the art community said the previous board was blindsided in early November when the building's property management company told them the League owed $198,000 in rent on their NoDa building.

"Everybody's shocked, like wait a second. What do you mean?" recalled one board member.

"Based on our call, it is safe to say that you were not aware of the outstanding balance," the management company, Trinity Partners, wrote in a Nov. 8 email to board members shared with WFAE. "I apologize we did not loop you in sooner, but I hope we can figure things out quickly."

The Charlotte Art League planned to host a podcast studio and green space in the second floor above the artist studios and art gallery.
Nick de la Canal
The Charlotte Art League planned to host a podcast studio and green space in the second floor above the artist studios and art gallery.

'There was no urgency'

Board members said they got to work in the weeks after on a corrective action plan they sent to Dukes, who board members said did not follow through. In addition, board members asked Dukes for access to the organization's bank account to verify its finances, which he never gave.

"It was like he didn't see this as an issue. There was no urgency behind it," one board member said.

Later in the month, the board held an emergency Zoom meeting with Dukes, and pressed him on whether he had kept information from them about the organization's finances.

Three board members told WFAE that during the meeting, Dukes said he had been aware of the outstanding rent and did not inform the board.

After Dukes left the call, the board discussed whether to terminate Dukes, but after a long conversation, the all-volunteer board decided to submit their own resignations instead.

"If we terminated him, he got to walk away scot-free," a board member said, "and the burden of what was left would be left not only on board volunteers but on the staff, and ultimately the artists."

By the end of the first week of December, the entire board had resigned, and two staff members followed soon after.

As of March 15, two staff members were listed on the organization's website: Dukes and an events coordinator.

Director denies allegations

In a statement to WFAE, Dukes denied the board members' allegations, saying they were "false and defamatory," and declined to comment further.

Dukes has led the organization since 2020, guiding the organization through the COVID-19 pandemic and its transition into its new building in 2022. Prior to his involvement in the arts, he worked as a bomb disposal technician and became disabled from two blast injuries and five traumatic brain injuries, according to his bio.

Nearly all of the people WFAE spoke with, including artists and a member of a previous board, described Dukes as a visionary who had worked tirelessly for the Charlotte Art League and said they were disappointed to see the organization in peril.

It remains unclear whether the Charlotte Art League could strike a deal with the building's owner to stay. The building owner, Flywheel Partners, did not respond to requests for information.

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal