Arts council retooling

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Aiming to rebound from a fundraising slump, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County is counting on new donors to provide a big increase in its annual fund drive that kicked off February 9.

The $2.1 million goal, up from $1.65 million raised last year, matches the total raised in 2000, the council’s biggest drive ever.

Enlisting new contributors is key to the larger goal of involving more people in the council’s work, says Milton Rhodes, who served as executive director from 1971 to 1985, and returned last October as president and CEO.

With individuals accounting for two-thirds of dollars contributed to the drive, he says, the council plans to broaden its base of support, in large part by targeting the 18,000 employees of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and Forsyth Medical Center.

Council volunteers also will visit roughly 600 workplaces, up from 140 last year, to promote the drive, which is chaired by Bill Applegate, senior vice president of Wake Forest University Health Sciences and dean of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and by Sallye Liner, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Forsyth Medical Center.

The drive will build on a special “stabilization” effort in November and December that raised $700,000 from long-time contributors.

The funds will be used to make emergency repairs to the council’s Sawtooth Building and Hanes Community Center, meet cash-flow shortfalls, and set the stage for this year’s drive, Rhodes says.

After eliminating two senior-management jobs and one support position in September, the 11-employee council in January kicked off a strategic planning process with an “Arts Summit” at which 450 individuals talked about redefining the council’s role and setting priorities for community arts programs that have a combined economic impact totaling $49 million, according to a 2000 study.

By summer, Rhodes says, a series of committees, focus groups and task forces should be set up to produce a strategic plan in six to eight months.

“We know that to get buy-in, we’re going to have to have lots of participation,” he says. “So we know we have to listen to everybody. It’s going to a community effort.”

The plan also will address the future of the council’s two facilities, now the focus of a committee formed last October to review a handful of proposals on whether to retain or shed those facilities.

Some board members want the council to get rid of its facilities and focus on raising money to support its 16 member agencies, which have budgets totaling $9 million, Rhodes says.

Other board members want the council to provide arts programs and facilities, and play a bigger role promoting and supporting arts in the community.

And with another 60 or so arts and cultural organizations that have combined budgets totaling roughly $40 million and whose ranks are growing rapidly, Rhodes says, the community faces the big challenge of providing operating support for those organizations.

Whatever role it ultimately decides to play, the council must overcome a lack of understanding in the community about its work and mission, says Rhodes, who from 1985 through 1993 was president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, a national membership organization of local arts councils.

“Once that’s explained,” he says. “I’m convinced through the stabilization process and the initial gifts we’ve received from the campaign that people understand, but it needs to be almost a one-on-one situation of making the case.”

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