Arts & Cultural Organizations Seek Increased Private Support as Public Funding Dwindles

Article excerpt

As federal, state and local governments snip, cut and slash their funding, museums and performing arts organizations everywhere are feeling the pain. In New York City, the Central Park Zoo lost 58% of its city funding and there was talk of its closing as a result. At The Music Center of Los Angeles County, reduced government funding has necessitated cutting staff by 15% and programs

by 20%.

"There's certainly not more money around." With that terse understatement, Maxine Gaiber, public relations officer for the Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, CA, summed up the situation facing arts and cultural institutions nationwide. Funding sources -- governments, foundations, corporations and individual donors -- have become harder to tap. Intensifying the problem is the synergistic relationship among those sources: often one responds only after seeing that another has done so.

Some organizations are seeing corporate support decline. Part of the problem is the recession-induced profit squeeze, which leaves corporations with fewer discretionary dollars. Also, as a result of mergers and acquisitions, fewer corporations remain to give those dollars. Yet Esther Wachtell, president of The Music Center of Los Angeles County, says that "the corporate community has been steadfast in its support." Other organizations also report successful corporate campaigns.

Meanwhile, foundations continue to make grants, but only if they are persuaded that the recipient organizations are viable. Thus strong attendance is frequently a prerequisite for financial support.

Focus on individuals

Almost all the practitioners whom PRJ contacted for this report saw individual contributors as their most promising source of funds. "Individual and foundation giving remain steady. That's where the future of fundraising is," predicted Bill Conner, director of development for the San Francisco Opera Association.

Connor is not alone in his assessment. Despite economists' warnings that the country cannot recover from the recession until consumers stop worrying and start spending, conversations with practitioners reveal that consumers are spending for the arts -- if those who approach them are sufficiently persuasive.

"Individual contributions are stronger; they've come in to take up the slack" resulting from cutbacks in other areas, reported Margie Shackelford, director of development and public relations for the Newport Harbor Art Museum. "This was our best year for trustee giving. They see th need; we've made a strong case."

Shackelford's comments, and those of others responsible for fundraising and audience development at institutions across the country, reveal that stepped-up efforts by public relations practitioners are vital in attracting both dollars and people. In some instances, what's needed is the ingenuity and creativity to develop new programs. But even ongoing programs require more attention than ever. And above all, practitioners are emphasizing communication -- making potential donors and attendees aware of what is available and why it deserves their support.

Bucking the trend of reduced government funds, scientific and cultural organizations in six counties in Colorado actually persuaded the legislature and the voters to approve a one-tenth of 1% sales tax increase in 1988. "We needed a stable source of funding", explained Caroline Schomp, director of public relations and marketing for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. "We believed the people in our metro area also wanted this and would be willing to pay for it." The new legislation distributes funds to more than 170 organizations, which may use 10% of the money at their discretion.

Eight of the recipient organizations pooled their discretionary funds and this past December launched a community awareness campaign with the slogan "Find yourself in the arts." In the campaign's logo, the "Y" in "You" is a stylized human figure. …