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Bloomberg awards let arts groups focus on growth, and affordability

Tuesday, September 4, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

More than two dozen small and mid-sized arts organizations in Austin have been awarded two-year grants totaling more than $1 million from the Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation, with the promise of comprehensive training and other tools to help in their future growth.

In all, 26 local groups were named in the latest round of grants that so far have targeted five major cities with $43 million in total awards. The complete list of winners is available here.

The training will offer information – including training from Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser –  to improve fundraising, strategic planning, marketing and board development for the groups that receive funding from the city’s Cultural Arts Division.

“In Austin, we aim to ensure that our arts community is as healthy and vibrant as ever because (it’s) core to the identity of our city,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a released statement. “This investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies will create the capacity for our emerging arts organizations to realize their potential and be better equipped to grow into mature organizations that will serve our community long into the future.”

Many of the recipient groups have annual budgets of around $1 million, with the Bloomberg awards offering a two-year boost to add a new position, expand programming or make other operational improvements. The foundation contacted the groups in May with directions on how to apply for the awards that tend to total a few percentage points of a given organization’s budget.

Matthew Hinsley, executive director of Austin Classical Guitar, said the $85,000 received will be a welcome help but he is looking forward to the chance to work and learn with other arts leaders who don’t get much time to exchange ideas.

Austin Classical Guitar’s most recent round of Cultural Arts funding was $185,000 toward its total budget of $1.2 million.

“There’s an opportunity with this to be in a space with other leaders and learn from each other about things related to customer relations or ticketing and how they do things in the gallery or cinema worlds versus how we do it in the classical music world,” he said.

“I’m also thrilled that they chose to focus on small and mid-size arts organizations that have a capacity to grow and serve a diverse set of interests.”

Hinsley said there is also the opportunity in the training program for leaders to discuss strategies for combating Austin’s affordability crisis that is making it harder for performance groups to hold on to their venues, and is forcing artists to move out of the city to find cheaper housing.

Ron Berry, executive and artistic director for Fusebox Festival, said affordability is a growing problem for the theater group and he hopes to use some of the Bloomberg training to plan a capital campaign that will raise money for a permanent facility.

Fusebox will receive $65,000 over two years from the grant, which Berry said will be used to hire a development director. The group has an annual budget of $650,000, with $109,000 in its most recent Cultural Arts award.

“There’s lots of things we want to do. But we’re not looking to do growth for growth’s sake, and anything we can do to acquire some real estate will help us preserve our long-term affordability,” he said. “With any artist space, that is the biggest issue right now. And here in Austin we don’t really have the philanthropic groups or foundations that you see in a Houston or Dallas where there is ongoing, dedicated support for the arts. There’s support out there, but it takes more ongoing work for the nonprofits to go out and cultivate it.”

Photo by Stuart Seeger made available through a Creative Commons license.

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