Alwun House: Out Of Alternatives?

Kim Moody, a cockatiel perched on his left shoulder, sits at a table in the backyard of Alwun House, the beleaguered alternative-arts organization he directs. He's smoking Marlboros and sipping black coffee, but otherwise looking pretty relaxed, considering that Alwun, located in a 77-year-old three-story house at 1204 East Roosevelt, owes more than $100,000 to thirty-some-odd creditors.

Then again, maybe Moody should feel relieved: Two days before, on October 30, the landlord came by and told Moody he was going to give him and Alwun House a break. Earlier, the landlord had threatened to throw the group out if it didn't come up with $20,000 by December 1. Now the landlord was saying he'd wait to see if Moody and Alwun were serious about raising the funds before making his decision.

Moody, who looks like a hippie Morton Downey Jr., takes a puff of a Marlboro, a swig of black coffee and says evenly, "This is a real situation. It's not just a matter of Kim crying wolf. There is a wolf."

Alwun House was started in 1971, and its name, an intentional misspelling of "all one," is a reflection of the idealistic goals of those peace-and-love days. It aspired to be a center for a variety of arts and over the years presented art shows, mime, film, storytelling, Native American and Latin American folk art and music. Recently, however, it's fallen upon hard times for a variety of reasons.

Two well-intended but disastrous fund-raising events--the 1988 and 1989 Carnivals Phoenix--ended up costing more than they raised. And Alwun House, which has gained notoriety for out-of-the-mainstream events such as its exotic (read: erotic) art shows, has never been good at attracting the kind of big-cigar names a successful arts group needs on its board of directors.

And, while the organization has struggled, its director has had problems of his own. Some critics accuse Moody--who to them is synonymous with Alwun House--of living in the lap of luxury at the rambling structure at the same time he cries poverty.

Alwun House's problems are of relatively recent origin. Ten years ago, its future looked bright. The organization started an annual fund raiser called Caribbean Carnival in 1979, and the event not only grew in popularity but made money its first six years, Moody says. Then, in 1988 and 1989, the tide turned, and the former moneymaking event began piling up debts. Alwun lost $65,000 on the 1988 Carnival and almost $30,000 on this year's event, Moody says. Plus, Moody's organization has two $3,000 debts stemming from the rain-plagued 1985 spring Caribbean Carnival (the festival's name until it was changed to Carnival Phoenix in 1988) and a 1986 art and architecture forum beset by unfulfilled pledges.

Since 1979, the Carnival had grown steadily from a one-day event at Alwun House to a three-day fest at the Wesley Bolin Plaza last year. Moody says Alwun expected 20,000 revelers to attend the 1988 Carnival and had expanded the scope of the event to attract an increased number of families. But only 8,000 showed up, Moody says, adding that the family audience "did not come out in the numbers we needed."

Alwun House's losses from the event sent it reeling, but the organization figured it could come back with the '89 Carnival. The prospects for success looked good when the city invited Alwun to use a downtown festival site on Washington Street from Central Avenue to Seventh Avenue. Moody says Alwun was planning to make the '89 Carnival a free event that would attract thousands of people and big-money sponsors.

Then the Fiestaval and the Grand Prix came. Downtown merchants, law firms and the courts grumbled about the disruptions the events caused, Moody says, and put pressure on the city not to hold any more events during business hours.

The city then rescinded its invitation to Alwun for Carnival Phoenix in July, Moody says, which threw the organization's plans into chaos. Moody says Alwun briefly considered canceling the event before deciding to relocate to the rooftop of Park Central Mall, the site of the festival in 1986 and 1987. The change in venue set back three weeks Alwun's distribution of posters advertising the event. The organization decided to charge people $4 and $6 admission to cover basic costs, and Moody thinks sponsors were willing to fork over less cash because of the forecast of a lower attendance.

Alwun's problems were compounded when an Oktoberfest, running at the same time at Scottsdale's Horseworld and featuring aging rocker Ted Nugent, drew thousands. On top of that, Hurricane Hugo canceled Carnival's main musical attraction, Dave Mason, who was stuck on St. Thomas. About 3,000 paid to attend the event, 7,000 fewer than Alwun was expecting, Moody says.

The '88 and '89 Carnivals hit home at Alwun, literally. Moody says the organization put up the ancient house that serves as the hub of its activities as collateral to help finance the '88 event. And he says Alwun refinanced the house, changing from a mortgage to a lease-with-option in August to raise $10,000 to help finance the '89 Carnival. Alwun was able to make payments on the lease in August and September but not in October, Moody says.

That's when the landlord threatened to evict Alwun if it didn't come up with $20,000 by December 1. But Moody says the landlord subsequently visited the house, took a look at the roof--it needs repairs--and decided to be lenient.

The leaky roof gives the lie to one of the more constant criticisms leveled at Moody: That he is freeloading by living on the premises at Alwun House and that he's paying himself a large percentage of the organization's proceeds.

"I'd love for people who say that to come here when I'm mopping the floor or cleaning the sink or some other porcelain objects," Moody says.

"Part of the criticism is that Kim lives here," Moody says. "If I received a salary, I'd gladly live somewhere else."

The director says that Alwun pays him no salary and that his income during the past year was about $3,000, earned from jobs like organizing wedding and business receptions. To travel around the city, he says he relies on his bike, the bus and rides from friends. His Chevrolet truck, which features a flat tire and a "Mecham for ex-Governor" bumper sticker, is in long-term parking beside Alwun House. Moody says it needs $800 in repairs to run again.

"I wear tee shirts; I wear Levi's," Moody says. "If I were to go into the business world, I'd have to buy a whole new wardrobe. I have been known to wear a tie to business meetings, but my preference is a bola tie."

Moody's anti-establishment lifestyle gives an indication of why Alwun House hasn't been able to attract the kind of board members who could help it thrive--or even survive. According to Moody, Alwun's current board of directors includes City of Mesa Community Center events coordinator Chuck Moen, attorney Paul Tutnick, architect Dana Johnson, interior-decoration business owner Elaine Nichols, and photographer Laurence Vanderbeek. The director acknowledges that they don't have a great deal of financial clout. "But they're dedicated people," he says.

Alwun House has interviewed potential board members who have had experience with organizations like Scottsdale Center for the Arts, Moody claims, but problems arise after they ask the question, "What kind of art goes on here?"

Their response, Moody says, when they learn about Alwun activities like the exotic art show, is generally: "This isn't something I'd want in my living room."

Given that Alwun House can manage to hang on by its fingernails, Moody has several changes in mind. For future fund-raising events, Alwun plans to take a more conservative financial approach, Moody says. Alwun will no longer put all its eggs in one basket. "If that means no Carnival, that means no Carnival. The idea is to get on solid footing. That means many fund raisers as opposed to one, and that means one not being so much of a risk," he says.

Moody and Alwun are now scrambling to arrange two such new-style fund raisers. One, a Thanksgiving dinner, Moody hopes will raise $2,000. Another, an auction, has already received $10,000 worth of donated art. Alwun has not worked out the details of the sale, Moody says.

Despite Alwun's threatened extinction, Moody remains optimistic amid the group's current fund-raising efforts. "We're not down for the count," he says.

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David Koen

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