Metro Atlanta arts groups to receive $1 million in grants

Sometimes a windfall gift turns the recipient into a spendthrift.

But when the board at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) learned that the Midtown museum would receive a $150,000 gift, their frugal instincts kicked in.

“The reaction of the board was to start their own end-of-year campaign, to give the museum even greater stability,” said executive director Laura Flusche. “We want to go into 2016 as strong as we can be.”

That prudence is a sign of the times.

"The last few years have been tough," said Freddie Ashley, artistic director of Actor's Express. "The arts have been a little slower to bounce back than other sectors in the economy."

The Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund is doing its part to reverse that trend. On Thursday, in news revealed exclusively to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the fund will announce $1 million in gifts to 12 small and midsize arts groups.

Two of those grants will go to MODA and Actor’s Express, each of which will receive $150,000 over the next two years. (Aurora Theatre is also getting a grant of that size.)

“It’s nice to see the arts fund able to step up in ways that other funding sources can’t or won’t,” Ashley said.

The arts fund, part of the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, will announce those grants Thursday during a luncheon at the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead.

More than 550 arts, business and philanthropic leaders will gather for the presentation, which will also include workshops on finance and the arts — and a little show business.

The recipients of the grants are:

  • Gwinnett Council for the Arts — $60,000
  • Morgan County Foundation — $65,000
ExploreThese grants come on top of the $340,000 in “capitalization” grants that the arts fund awarded earlier this year to the Horizon Theatre Company and Atlanta Celebrates Photography.

The capitalization initiative, begun in 2013, was intended to drive arts groups toward better financial planning. It came about when a 2011 study by the philanthropic organization discovered that most of Atlanta’s small to midsize arts groups had almost no money in the bank, and that many were in debt.

Such a situation is perilous during a downturn in the economy, which Georgia Shakespeare discovered last year. After 29 years of bringing the Bard to Atlanta, the debt-ridden theater company rang down its final curtain.

“That was an emotional setback for the whole community,” said arts fund director Lisa Cremin.

Other arts groups seem to have heard the message. In addition to saving for a rainy day, they are pursuing strategies to enhance survivability.

Among the presentations at the luncheon will be one by the Atlanta Intown Theatre Coalition, a group of five Atlanta theaters that are collaborating on marketing and audience development.

While the arts fund encourages financial prudence, its gifts make something else possible: a chance to go out on a limb.

An example would be Aurora Theatre's Spanish language events, such as the Noche de Velas presentation on Dec. 7. The Lawrenceville theater will offer authentic music and food from Colombia in a traditional lighting of the candles.

Reaching out to all parts of the community is critical to the growth of the theater, said Aurora’s co-founder and producing artistic director Anthony Rodriguez. “It’s important to use that money to expand our efforts,” he said. “We need more audiences.”

This year, the arts fund doubled the amount of money it will give away, thanks to a gift from the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation.

Flusche said her museum, which is staging an exhibit on 3-D printing called "Designers, Makers, Users: 3-D Printing the Future," will gain some needed breathing room with the monetary gift.

“It will give it the freedom to pursue its mission as effectively as possible,” she said, “without having to worry as much about day-to-day planning as we have in the past.”