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Finding Arts Funding

New money method and "new" venue for arts organizations


For more information on Idaho Commission on the Arts, visit Send requests for Morrison Center Endowment Foundation grant applications to Morrison Center Endowment Foundation, 827 E. Park Blvd., Boise, ID 83712.

A few weeks ago, Boise Weekly reported on some of the innovative ways several local arts organizations are going about getting funding in these tough economic times.

What we discovered is that not only are not-for-profit arts organizations finding new and innovative ways to connect with their audiences and get the cash they need to stay solvent and relevant, but that at least one person in Idaho's arts community has a slightly radical idea to push the boundaries of cash raising even further.

In addition, one venerable arts supporter in Boise is stepping up to help even the most unlikely group perform at the Morrison Center, the holy grail of local venues.

Michael Faison, executive director of the Idaho Commission on the Arts, spends a great deal of his time traveling throughout Idaho--and to other parts of the country--speaking to political groups and arts organizations on behalf of arts. Faison is a firm believer in innovation and experimentation and is willing to posit suggestions that may seem a little out there.

Other than their not-for-profit status, arts organizations such as a dance companies, orchestras, theaters, operas and the like are similar to for-profit businesses. They have staff, overhead, vendors and payables. Contributed income (donations and grants) makes up much of their budgets, but they rely on customers (patrons buying tickets) for earned income. Unlike businesses, though, more often than not, an arts organization has little in the way of collateral. Arts orgs don't generally own their own buildings--they often rent rehearsal, office and performance space. Getting a line of credit isn't easy.

With corporate donations down, patrons and donors are being asked to give more than ever before. But Faison thinks that a patron who is regularly willing to drop $200 for a season ticket on a gamble that an organization will provide quality programming may also be willing to gamble an additional $200 and become part of a credit holder group.

"Your cash flow vs. when you receive money and when the money goes out the door is really critical," Faison said. "If there isn't enough money in the bank, you can't meet payroll. If you can't meet payroll, everybody will go through the roof. Most businesses go out of business not because of larger issues, but simply because they run out of cash."

For an arts organization, it's no different. So Faison talks to those whose livelihoods are tied to the arts about forecasting and mitigating cash flow problems. He explains that they need to begin predicting what month in a given year they will have cash flow issues. If they can predict when they are most likely to have cash flow issues, they can begin to plan ahead. But it's one thing to know when the money will run out. It's another to get a financial buffer in place for when that happens. Rather than go back to patrons and ask for more donations, Faison thinks arts organizations should go about it the way any other business would.

"In a for-profit business, you use some of your capital assets and you go to a bank and you get a secured line of credit," Faison said. "An arts organization doesn't usually have that kind of capital. What would they use to secure a line of credit? They can use something that actually brings their customers closer to them: They can work among the people who love them to build a credit-holder group, people who believe in them enough and would give them a donation in the same amount."

The idea is that those donations would then be deposited in a bank as a pool of collateral for a line of credit in the event that an organization needs to mitigate cash flow problems.

Justin Wilkerson may not necessarily have a way for arts organizations to make more money, but he does have new way to help them save some.

Wilkerson is the grandson of Velma Morrison and president of the Morrison Center Endowment Foundation. The endowment began in 1983 with about $5 million, and in the 12 years Wilkerson has headed the MCEF, he has seen the endowment grow to its current $12.5 million.

The endowment's main function is to fund operations and maintenance of the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts (on the Boise State campus), as well as provide funds for the occasional capital improvement project--such as the $150,000 plaza entrance that was remodeled in conjunction with the center's 25th anniversary in 2008. But ultimately, the center is about the arts, and Wilkerson said he really wanted the MCEF to play a bigger role in fostering local arts. So in April, it was announced that this year will be the first that the MCEF will offer grant funding opportunities to Boise-based, performing arts groups to perform in the center.

"It's another way we can bring arts into the center," Wilkerson said. "And it's open to anybody," he added, but the focus will be on groups whose budgets have previously prohibited them from playing there.

The selection committee that will choose the grantees will be comprised of three current MCEF board members. A pool of funding will be determined each year, and grant applications will be reviewed during two cycles annually with two deadlines: Jan. 1 and July 1. Wilkerson promises a simple application process, so even performing arts organizations with little to no grant-writing experience shouldn't hesitate to apply.

"The emphasis is on new and expanded use," Wilkerson said. "We want to get more arts groups in there, more people utilizing the center."