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By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — To better champion the arts, which account for an estimated $30 million in annual local spending and support 1,400 jobs, the United Arts Council of Greensboro is overhauling itself.

Building on a five-year effort to stabilize its finances, the council aims to reach more donors, raise more money, make grants that are more strategic, and play more of a matchmaking role for arts groups, artists and the community.

“The United Arts Council is uniquely positioned to be a leadership organization in the arts,” says Jeanie Duncan, president and CEO.

Faced with debt built up over several years during which its annual fund drive fell just short of its goal, the council at the end of 2001 cut its staff to five people from eight.

And in June 2002, with its debt climbing to $300,000, and its staff down to four with the resignation of John Santucci as CEO, the council worked out a five-year “capacity-building” plan with six local foundations.

To “help us help ourselves,” Duncan says, and to avoid any reduction in support for arts groups while the council reduced its debt, the foundations agreed to pool funds to match either first-time contributions to the council’s annual drive, or bigger contributions.

The annual drive grew to over $1.1 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2003, up $72,000, and to $1.2 million the following year.

The council aims to raise $1.4 million in the current drive, chaired by Denny Kelly, executive vice president at advertising and public relations firm Bouvier Kelly, and $1.5 million in 2007.

Since 1997, when the council created its Renaissance Society to recognize donors making larger gifts, the number of individuals giving $5,000 or more has grown to roughly 20 from only one.

Including companies and foundations, gifts that size account for roughly half the annual drive.

Also prompting the council’s redesign was a decision by its board in 2001 to stop producing CityStage and the African American Arts Festival, two events that together had accounted for 20 percent to 30 percent of its staff time.

The council also has launched a series of community arts forums, has restructured its board to better promote the arts, may form a development commission to spur more arts support, will expand an electronic inventory of artists and arts groups, and is developing a new brand, web site and marketing campaign.

It also has retooled its process for reviewing and making grants. While continuing to provide basic operating grants to a core group of more established groups, the council also will be more flexible in funding the broader arts community, including newer groups, Duncan says.

Replacing its panel of 30 citizens that reviews grants will be a panel of up to nine arts and arts-management experts from outside the Triad, plus to four to six council board members.

The council also is considering whether to separate itself from the Carolina Theatre, an 1,100-seat facility it owns and operates at 310 S. Greene St. with an annual budget of $750,000, bringing the organization’s total budget to roughly $2 million.

“The United Arts Council is not in the business of producing the arts,” Duncan says. “We are in the business of serving and supporting the arts that are happening all around us.”

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