Arts drive aims to hold steady in downturn

Jeanie Duncan
Jeanie Duncan

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Despite the freefall in the economy, United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro has set a goal of $1.6 million for its annual drive, the same total it raised last year, when it exceeded its goal by $180,000.

“We know that’s ambitious but we felt it was important to send a positive tone that the arts needs the community’s investment right now more than ever before,” says Jeanie Duncan, president and CEO of the council.

¬†Arts groups and artists “need investment to sustain their operation and to sustain work for artists, and to keep jobs in our economy is very important,” she says. “It’s important to keep the organizations viable and sustained through this economy.”

Chaired for the second straight year by Angie Orth, vice president for regional development and quality improvement at Advanced Home Care, the drive will gear its marketing to the three goals the council is focusing on in its new strategic plan.

Those include educating young people through the arts, engaging and connecting the region’s diverse population to the arts, and positioning Greensboro as a cultural destination.

Key to the drive will be the council’s staff, board and volunteer leaders in the wake of a 12 percent cut in its annual budget that including keeping vacant until the end of the fiscal year June 30 the position of director of development.

In January, faced with the continuing fall in the economy, the council reduced its $1.6 million annual budget by $200,000.

The cuts were split evenly between administrative costs and grants the council awards to arts groups and artists.

Ann Lynch, who served as director of development, resigned in September to become a full-time professional artist, Duncan says.

The council’s staff now totals four people.

Volunteer leaders for last year’s fund drive agreed to continue in their same roles this year.

A big focus of the drive will be “leadership” gifts totaling $1,000 or more. The remainder of the drive counts on smaller gifts, and on public funding from local and state government.

In the 2008 drive, gifts of $250 or more accounted for roughly $940,000, or 58 percent of the total raised.

United Arts Council also is involved in two new initiatives, one that aims to use the arts to address critical community issues, the other to equip artists with business and entrepreneurial skills.

As part of the Piedmont Triad Initiative for Community Arts, the council is launching a $20,000 program that will make grants in the Greensboro area, aiming to connect the arts with other nonprofits to address overarching community needs, such as homelessness or education.

And the council has teamed up with the Piedmont Triad Partnership, an economic-development group, and with local colleges and universities, to provide training workshops this spring one Saturday a month to teach business skills to artists.

Funds from the drive will help support those initiatives, as well as local arts groups and artists.

And the council has revamped and expanded its grantmaking program.

Contributing to the arts is “important because the arts are such a vital sector for our economy,” Duncan says.

A 2007 study commissioned by United Arts Council found the nonprofit arts sector “delivers significant economic impact, jobs and tax revenue,” she says.

The arts also are critical to boost people through tough times, she says.

“People are really challenged, losing their jobs, and individuals you would not normally find needing food, clothing and shelter are put in that position,” she says. “The arts play a real critical role in healing, in nurturing and in helping us rise above the challenges and the adversity.”

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