New Hampshire City Challenges Arts Nonprofit’s Dissolution Plans

By Jon Platek (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

March 31, 2017; New Hampshire Public Radio

New Hampshire’s second-largest city is taking legal action against a mysterious arts nonprofit in order to keep the organization’s assets local as it dissolves. What does the Nashua Center for the Arts owe its donors and its home?

The nonprofit, founded in the ’60s, recently filed a petition to dissolve and distribute its nearly $1 million in assets to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, according to a story in the Nashua Telegraph. Although state law requires a dissolving charitable organization to distribute assets in accordance with its articles of incorporation and bylaws, the Nashua Center for the Arts’ broad mission to promote arts in the region—and its five trustees’ silence—hasn’t helped clarify its purpose to local leaders.

Many were apparently unaware that the organization was still in operation in recent years. According to the nonprofit’s IRS Form 990s filed over the past three years, it has awarded less than $20,000 to only five organizations: Symphony NH (based in Nashua), Rotary Club of Nashua, Nashua Sculpture Symposium, Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua, and Bishop Guertin High School.

Nashua Telegraph reporter Damien Fisher explained the situation to NHPR as follows:

Sometime in the 1990s, (Nashua Center for the Arts) 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 [been] doing with it.

Fisher reported that Nashua’s attorney general wants the local probate court to direct the funding to arts nonprofits that focus on the city. Though the Currier Museum of Art primarily focuses on operation of its museum in Manchester, the organization also reports serving preschool-aged children at a HeadStart program in Nashua with arts enrichment.

Still, Nashua has its own arts-focused nonprofits that could certainly use the funding, particularly at a time when the National Endowment for the Arts is endangered and in a state that consistently ranks among the least charitable in the nation.

The city has long been planning for a $20 million performing arts center but has yet to move past feasibility studies.

What’s next? State law dictates that “any transfer of remaining assets inconsistent with the organization’s stated purpose or with donor restrictions may be subject to legal action by the Attorney General.”

So, while the Nashua Center for the Arts’ dissolution plans may technically pass muster in the courts, it’s clear that the organization didn’t follow Lee Bruder’s golden rules, including, “A successful dissolution preserves an organization’s legacy and contributes to a positive collective memory of the organization.”

There are also lessons to be gleaned as nonprofit leaders in the U.S. carry out development plans in an aging country: bequests can be as complicated as they are exhilarating.—Anna Berry