The Vermont Performing Arts League, which manages the operations and assets of North End Studios, plans to dissolve as a nonprofit in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against cofounder Ben Bergstein.
In a Sunday press release, an interim board of directors said that it has formed with the sole purpose of dissolving the organization and consulting the community on how to "best allocate its resources and continue the essential work that VPAL has performed over the last forty-eight years."
"VPAL is in crisis and we have decided that, while the work that VPAL has done is valuable and essential to the community, it has lost credibility as an organization and can no longer function under its present name and structure," the press release says.
Bergstein, who founded the performing arts league in 1978 alongside his wife and business partner, April Werner, has been accused of forcibly kissing, sexually harassing and groping numerous women over the last decade. He was also the subject of a criminal investigation in 2016 following an allegation that he brought an underage girl to a bar and then back to his home where he “sexually penetrated her" but was never charged.
VTDigger.org revealed the extensive allegations in a story published last month. Four of the eight alleged victims who spoke to the news outlet said Werner knew about her husband's behavior but "brushed it off. Both Bergstein and Werner have denied any wrongdoing.
Bergstein resigned from his role as president of the arts league in early April, before the story broke, at the request of the nonprofit's board of directors. Werner stepped down from the board late last month but had planned to continue serving as the league's executive director until a replacement could be found. She has since resigned.
Reached Sunday, Werner had little to say about the interim board's decision. "I’m not employed by them and I’ll just as well stay out of it," she said. She then added: "I wish them the best I hope they can bring the community together and create something new and better."
David Schein, one of the interim board members, said the group met for the first time on Thursday and determined that the organization's credibility issues were too grave to overcome.
He said the board was now working to figure out what to do with all the league's assets, from tables and chairs to sound and lighting equipment. He was also focused on addressing how the abrupt closure of North End Studios will impact the New American community, noting several people have already called to ask whether they might be able to use one of the performing arts league's spaces for upcoming events.
"If we can work something out with somebody to continue some of these, that's important," he said.
Schein hoped the cities of Winooski and Burlington would take on a larger role in fostering community spaces rather than continuing to leave it up to tiny nonprofits such as the performing arts league. He said the interim board would only consider creating an entirely new nonprofit if it had broad support from the community.
For now, he said, the board's main goal was to start a conversation. "We're not going to design something without a whole lot of input," Schein said. "It's time to blow this thing up and put it to the community: 'What do you want?'"