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Arts orgs thinking creatively to supplement funding shortfalls

Funding for the arts in these tough economic times is challenging, but arts organizations and foundations are looking ahead to better times. They’re also tightening their belts and thinking outside the box.

The 30-year old Greater Jackson Arts Council is already running a lean operation and looking for creative ways to raise funds. The organization is funded by the city, Hinds County, Mississippi Arts Commission grants, corporate support, fundraising and self-written grants.

“About 92% of what we do goes back into the community. We can show that through our annual audits,” said Executive Director Janet Scott. “We’re creative in the ways we spend our money and raise it. We have to think of ways other people have not though of, find supporters who are not the norm and other funding.”

She attributes much of the council’s fundraising success to brilliant people who know how to make money serving on the board of directors. The council recently held its third-annual Storytellers Ball with 450 people attending. Scott says it went very well. It also has a new fundraiser coming up, something with a different twist that she isn’t ready to reveal just yet.

The Greater Jackson Arts Council is not just about supporting opera and the symphony — although it does support those artistic activities — but reaches deep into the community to help individual artists, arts organizations, neighborhood associations, art therapists and students. It sponsors an after-school art enrichment program and helps art students with costs of matting and framing their work. It provides SOS grants to help struggling organizations with basics such as electric bills. It even provides a grant for an individual who hosts a yearly neighborhood Halloween party to keep children off city streets. And these are not matching grants.

All of these activities require funding support from numerous sources, Scott points out. “We can hold on, as I think most organizations will. We’re okay,” she said. “Giving is down, but we’re confident it will come back.”

Giving is definitely slower than last year for the CREATE Foundation in Tupelo. However, the good news, says president Mike Clayborne, is that the heaviest giving by far usually comes in the last quarter of each year.

“Hopefully things will settle down in the stock market because that has more impact on us than the general economy,” he said. “About 60% of our contributions come through stock gifts, especially people making capital contributions. People are sort of frozen in their giving right now, but it’s not uncommon for us to receive 20% of our contributions for the entire year in the month of December.”

Noting that November and December are CREATE’s biggest months for contributions, Clayborne says it’s far too early to sound the alarm on this year’s funding.

“If we can get some stability in the stock market and in the general economy (I don’t want to minimize that), we will be okay,” he added. “The economy is different everywhere, even in parts of Mississippi. Things are pretty tight in our area, but we’re fortunate to have good things on the horizon.”

The CREATE Foundation covers a 16-county area in Northeast Mississippi, providing community support through grants and working with companies for their donor funds.

State funding for the Mississippi Arts Commission went down in 2001, but did get a small increase this year. Larry Morrisey, director of grants, says the budget is still less than it was seven or eight years ago. The commission, which provides grants and services to arts organizations and individual artists, is seeing a steady increase in the number of applicants.

“We are dividing the funds more among the group of clients we serve so we can help more people,” he said. “We had grants of $7,500 a few years ago. Now they are capped at $5,000. We want to be more realistic.”

Grants from the commission can be used for operating budgets, projects, fellowships and mini-grants for artists. The Arts Commission does not do any active fundraising. Funding comes from the state, the National Endowment for the Arts and private organizations — such as the Wallace Foundation and Blue Cross/Blue Shield — who donate for specific programs and activities.

The Arts, Hancock County organization is rebuilding following the area’s devastation from Hurricane Katrina. It actively sought donations to furnish supplies for local artists who lost their homes and studios.

“We’ve been very fortunate since the storm. We applied and got several grants from the (Mississippi) Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts,” said president Kay Gough. “We don’t do any kind of local fund raising.”

To spotlight their progress, the group will sponsor an artists’ studio tour, Arts Alive, October 25-26 in Bay St. Louis. “It’s really a neat event and will feature all kinds of artists,” she said. “We’re trying to help them recover. Those who lost studios will be set up at different locations around town.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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