Americans give away a grand total of $24 billion a year, arts consultant Dan Kierman told 50 members of local performing visual arts organizations last weekend, "so there's room for your new project. There's even more room for your proven, established project.
"That is, if you have your act together," he added.
Kierman is director of Arts D.C., an employment program for artists funded under the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). He spoke at the second of four free, all-day workshops in arts management at American University, and the topic was fundraising.
For an arts group, staying alive usually has as much to do with the ability to raise money as the ability to put on a good show.
The crunch can come to big and small companies alike. In 1974, Washington's National Ballet folded for lack of support. The Washington Theater lab plans to close permanently on May 1 after five years of searching for a suitable permanent performing space within its budget. And there are countless groups that never raised enough money to fulfill their plans and make a name for themselves.
So Arts D.C., the American University graduate program in arts management, and the Support Center, a kind of non-profit management consulting firm for other non-profit organizations, have joined together as the "Arts Management Resource Program" to offer advice. They are inviting members of about 250 local arts organizations, ranging from the Folger Theater to brand-new neighborhood groups, to workshops on fundraising, financial management, publicity, and other management issues.
Last weekend, Patrick Hayes, managing director of the Washington Performing Arts Society, discussed how to look someone straight in the eye and ask for money - big money. Sharon Williams, director of Arena Stage Associates, talked about developing mailing lists and soliciting funds through the mail. James Maxwell, a professional fundraiser for 17 years, and former development director for the National Symphony, discussed how to track down and apply for government and foundation grants.
Staff members of the Arts Management Resource Program also offer individual counseling on such issues, on a regular basis. Four of the arts consultants work out of the Support Center, 1424 16th St. NW, which provides consulting services to all types of non-profit public interest groups.
Because the four staff positions are paid by a federal grant, under the CETA jobs training program, the consulting services are free. So far, 18 local arts organizations have gone there for assistance.
The most common problem of arts organizations, explains Support Center director John Boruff, is more basic than fundraising: While their members have strong backgrounds in the arts, they may have no background at all in management.
One of the clients of the Support Center, who also attended the fundraising workshop, was Annette Miller, director of Annette's School of Dance at Sacred Heart Church, 16th Street and Park Road NW. A dance teacher for 10 years, Miller decided to found her own school three years ago, to offer instruction in Caribbean, Spanish and other ethnic dances as well as ballet and jazz. Despite a grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the school still was struggling to break even.
Miller went to the Support Center a few months ago for fundraising advice. First, she said, they sent an auditor to help her set up a bookkeeping system. Then, they explained how to develop a board of directors, and to prepare annual reports and program evaluations to present a strong image to potential contributors.
"When I went to the Support Center, I said, 'Why is it that some people just have a telephone and they can raise money - and here I am slaving away and I can't get it?'" said Miller.
"Now, there is a real difference in administrative quality, and when it comes to fundraising, I have the books to show we're really doing the things I say we do," she continued.
Additional workshops will be offered by the Art Management Resource Program at American University on May 20 and June 17.