Self Help limped to the close of the last fiscal year with a $140,000 budget shortfall, according to a financial report provided by Benitez. During the year ending June 30, the agency had $776,000 in expenses, almost two-thirds in payroll costs, but only $637,000 in income. Most of that income came from private foundations and corporations ($222,000), plus fundraising and earnings from sales and commissions ($260,000). Government funding accounted for roughly one-fifth of total revenue, just under $137,000.
Since July 1, the fiscal hole has only gotten deeper.
Benitez says he returned from his sabbatical to find that anticipated funding totaling $100,000 had not come through. Plus, money did not materialize to back the $35,000 part-time salary of the newly hired artistic director, Gustavo Leclerc, brought on board to steer the group in new creative directions.
Leclerc could not be reached for comment. His proposals have been shelved for lack of funding.
"We are working so close to the bone, it's hard to keep positive and pointed forward," Benitez says. "We do it. We fortify each other. But my job has become sweating payrolls and trying to figure out how to rob Peter to pay Paul."
The strongest assets of Self Help have always been priceless -- its reputation as a community-based group that sticks to principle and the loyalty of staff and supporters.
Thursday afternoon, Ochoa, the gallery director, was the only employee working on the second floor of the cold and musty building. She's pressing forward with plans for an erotic adults-only exhibition, "Better Than Naked II," which opens Feb. 5. And she's planning a designer showcase in March to build up a market for Self Help artists among filmmakers, set designers and interior designers.
"At times, it feels very empty," she says. "It feels a little lifeless out here working alone. But I'm very determined. We may be hanging on by these little threads, but we're going to build ourselves up again."
Ochoa also met with John Valadez, one of the artists taking part in a collaboration with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in an exhibition pairing scientists and artists, which opens Feb. 20.
Meanwhile, at a nearby desk, former programs coordinator Azucena Maldonado was at the computer at her old desk, polishing up her resume. She was one of two full-time staffers laid off in December, and she's now "looking to see what's out there" as far as new job opportunities.
Remarkably, she harbors no resentments.
"I love Self Help and I would just do anything for it," says Maldonado, who moved to L.A. from Texas. "Just being here these two years, I saw the love the artists have for this space. And I can see why. To lose it would leave such a void in the community. And it would have such a rippling effect because so many people in the country know about Chicano art and its roots because of Self Help Graphics."