ARCHIVED  April 1, 1996

Competition for arts sponsorships heats up

While funding sources for the arts are shriveling up at an alarming rate, many arts groups have learned that they must get as creative about funding as they are about the arts.

Arts groups that have entered the market aggressively have seen their efforts rewarded. Other groups have been able to come to the table with money in hand, and others are scrambling to keep their heads above water.

The Lincoln Center in Fort Collins is owned and funded by the city, so the center does not have many of the problems faced by local symphonies, theater groups or galleries. With a budget of just more than $1 million, the center still looks for corporate sponsors, private donors and ticket sales to remain high.

“We have a budget of $650,000 for performances,´ said David Siever, director of the Lincoln Center. “We raise a lot of money through ticket sales, and the money from our ticket sales supports the performances.”

A few local businesses underwrite some youth performances, and other businesses sponsor fund-raisers for the center.

“We solicit some business support, but we do not aggressively seek business support because we realize that there are so many other groups out there that really need the funding,” Siever said.

The arts have always been soft money for the government and an easy place to make cuts. Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, for example, could be cut off within the next two years.

“It is a very difficult climate right now,´ said Merete Cunningham, administrator for the Fort Collins Symphony Orchestra.

The Fort Collins Symphony, with a budget of $270,000, is in its 48th season under conductor Will Schwartz, who started the symphony in 1949. The symphony has a major fund-raiser each year, and often a benefit dinner concert and several smaller events. Along with ticket revenues, the symphony has many private sponsors.

“About 10 percent of our income comes from corporate sponsors,” Cunningham said. “We have three corporate sponsors who take their sponsorship very seriously; we do not get good support from other local businesses. But there are a lot of corporations here, and there are a lot of social needs out there. The symphony may be seen as a luxury.”

Cunningham said the Woman’s Guild, a nonprofit group, raises about 15 percent of the symphony’s revenue and recently gave it a check for $40,000. Private sponsors contribute about 85 percent of the revenue and corporate sponsors about 10 percent.

Some groups have found that offering businesses something in return for their sponsorship is the key to fund-raising. OpenStage Theatre & Co. Inc., which holds performances at the Mini Theatre in the Lincoln Center, has a corporate sponsor for each of its productions. Denise Burson Freestone, artistic director, said it works because they offer a lot in return.

“We do a little blurb about the company in the program as well as their logo, which goes on all the programs,” she said. “We mention them before each performance and ask the audience to thank them. This is our Producers Circle.”

Sponsors receive 200 tickets for opening Friday. Another group, performance sponsors, sponsors one evening performance, and others offer in-kind services, such as printing.

“Our [sponsorship] program has been in place for six years, and we have been very successful in getting sponsors,” Freestone said. “I think Fort Collins has finally reached the critical-mass stage and now can really support the arts. The Lincoln Center has given the arts a venue. Now the sponsorships are becoming a little bit competitive.”

The performing arts have usually been able to draw corporate sponsors more easily than the visual arts.

“We don’t get a lot of support from corporations,´ said Angela Brayham, executive director of OneWest Art Center in Fort Collins.

OneWest has a small museum and two galleries, and teaches numerous art classes, including crafts, painting, drawing, cartooning, mask making and many others.

“We do get a certain amount of support from the community,” she said. “We received new lighting for one gallery, and we have gotten companies to sponsor some of the kids’ art classes. Nobody gives money freely. We have to give them something they want. I think if you are more established, you can get more corporate sponsors.”

Brayham said corporate money is getting tighter because there are a lot of worthwhile causes out there.

“People are taking a harder, more conservative look at the arts,” she said. “They are asking if the arts are really important.”

OneWest has a budget of $140,000 and gets 12 percent of its funding from memberships and about 8 percent from programs that corporations underwrite. It also receives support from trades and in-kind services. The major portion of their funding, 50 percent, comes from the building, which OneWest owns and leases out to other tenants.

Jil Rosentrater, cultural affairs director for the City of Greeley, said arts groups need to become more aggressive in funding.

One of the problems is that many groups keep going to the same businesses over and over for funding, rather than trying to find new sources, she said.

“I feel sorry for the businesses,” she said. “The art groups must become more aggressive. They need to find new sources of revenue, and they need to be cultivating them, getting them on boards and not going to the same well all the time.”

While funding sources for the arts are shriveling up at an alarming rate, many arts groups have learned that they must get as creative about funding as they are about the arts.

Arts groups that have entered the market aggressively have seen their efforts rewarded. Other groups have been able to come to the table with money in hand, and others are scrambling to keep their heads above water.

The Lincoln Center in Fort Collins is owned and funded by the city, so the center does not have many of the problems faced by local symphonies, theater groups or galleries. With a…

Christopher Wood
Christopher Wood is editor and publisher of BizWest, a regional business journal covering Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties. Wood co-founded the Northern Colorado Business Report in 1995 and served as publisher of the Boulder County Business Report until the two publications were merged to form BizWest in 2014. From 1990 to 1995, Wood served as reporter and managing editor of the Denver Business Journal. He is a Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder. He has won numerous awards from the Colorado Press Association, Society of Professional Journalists and the Alliance of Area Business Publishers.
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