Arts funding continues to be iffy

14 metro organizations will share $390,000

The Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund has awarded $2.89 million in 71 grants to 38 midsize metro arts organizations since launching its Atlanta Arts Recovery initiative in 2009 after the recession hit.

But as it announces its final round of increased giving today — $390,000 to 14 metro groups — the fund’s leader is hardly declaring the Atlanta arts funding crisis resolved.

“I do think this recession is stressing out organizations, and there aren’t additional resources coming from new places,” Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund director Lisa Cremin said in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Metro arts groups, she added, are “in a very challenging position right now.”

Even Cremin, a longtime Atlanta arts leader, said she found it “stunning” this year as well-established groups including Actor’s Express, Georgia Shakespeare and Theatre in the Square sent SOS emails to supporters warning they would close their doors without significant cash infusions.

“Perhaps we’re seeing boards of directors saying, ‘Let’s throw it out to the people who come to see our work. We need to see who this is important to,’ ” Cremin said. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on voluntary boards now, and there’s a limit to what they can do ... to get these organizations through really rough times.”

In 2012, the Arts Fund, part of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, will revert to its prerecession plan of once-a-year grants, instead of twice-yearly Atlanta Arts Recovery initiative rounds of $500,000.

But Cremin expects the single funding round to increase next year to roughly $600,000. In fact, money is being held back from the final Arts Recovery round being announced today, at $390,000, to cushion the drop-off.

The 14 metro groups sharing the unrestricted general operating support grants are: Aurora Theatre ($75,000), Theatrical Outfit ($70,000), Callanwolde Fine Arts Center ($65,000), Synchronicity Theatre ($35,000), Gwinnett Ballet Theatre ($30,000), Atlanta Shakespeare Company ($25,000), Arts Clayton ($21,000), Joel Chandler Harris Association/Wren’s Nest ($20,000), Youth Ensemble of Atlanta ($15,000), Atlanta Printmakers Studio ($7,500), Atlanta Sacred Chorale ($7,500), Théâtre du Rêve ($7,500), Dance Canvas ($6,500) and Monroe Art Guild ($5,000).

For all the appeals, ranging from low-key to dire, Atlanta did not have a major arts group close during the recession, and some troupes appear to have been strengthened by the challenge. With governmental and corporate giving down, individual donors and foundations have stepped up to partly fill the breach. In addition to the $2.89 million in grants, the Arts Fund has paid out $300,000 in management consulting awards to help metro groups with strategic and financial planning and in the building of stronger boards.

“I don’t know if our funds saved any organizations,” Cremin said, “but it certainly strengthened the ones that had strong plans for their work and for their future and that exhibited strong management.”

Major donors to the Atlanta Arts Recovery initiative included the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Zeist Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, Bank of America and the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund’s advisory board.

Next year’s grants will be drawn from the Arts Fund’s endowment, valued at more than $9 million before the market decline of 2008 and today worth $7.1 million. That giving will be supplemented by at least two donors.