Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Courtesy of Jonathan Carlin
Courtesy of Susan Jennings
Courtesy of Stephanie Doyle
Courtesy of Opera Roanoke
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Over the last few years, there has been debate occurring in cities all across the country on how to best fund arts and cultural organizations so vital to their quality of life, educational opportunities and economy. This debate has certainly been occurring in Roanoke as the recession and state cutbacks have affected many of our prized organizations. Fortunately, as is often the case in Roanoke, many city and cultural leaders have taken to the challenge with depth and serious study.
Groups like the Regional Commission, Leadership Roanoke Valley and the city’s Roanoke Arts Commission have benchmarked other cities and various methods of raising and giving money to arts and cultural organizations. Many members of these groups, including us, have had the opportunity to attend national meetings on these topics. There is broad agreement that vibrant arts and cultural organizations are vital not just to a city’s quality of life but to its economy.
The economic benefits in terms of tourism, job creation, tax base and population growth are numerous. Additionally, our school leaders agree that our arts and cultural organizations provide a multitude of opportunities for students that tie their arts experiences to the Standards of Learning.
Outside of this consensus, however, there are many questions: Who should fund the organizations? How do you fund them? Do you fund all or some organizations? How do you choose? Do you encourage new organizations to form by giving funding or do you fund existing organizations with track records? Does funding play a role in how many and what mix of organizations is best for our city? Should funding go to capital, operational or programming needs?
The studies have shown there are many answers to these questions and that really all this comes down to is having a well-thought-out process, as opposed to necessarily having all the answers right away. In the past, Roanoke has used the arts commission to develop applications and award grants to various organizations to provide services or programs. Also, as part of our budgeting sessions, every year, a few arts and cultural organizations will apply for major donations that may extend over many years and are used solely for capital funding. Over the last 10 years, Roanoke has supported this type of funding in amounts ranging from less than $1 million to more than $3 million a year. The problem with this approach is it is not always fair and has a lot to do with timing. In addition, is it a good model to give only to capital, to only build new things and not give to operations, keeping them running? Also, there have been examples where giving a large amount of money once can do more harm than good to an organization’s budget.
The goal of a new funding model should be to create as large and as enduring an endowment fund as possible that can then give to vetted arts and cultural organizations in a reliable, predictable and sustainable manner. The best models for donations take an approach like the United Way or the United Arts Fund, which allows small and large donations to be pooled with governmental funding. A private-public approach, the mixing of public and private dollars, requires a lot of thought and decision making, but can be done.
A board would be responsible for properly reviewing the organizations in an ongoing manner that allows continuous grants to be given from an ever-increasing endowment if certain goals and objectives continue to be met. Funding would not be tied to capital, operational or programming needs. This is also good for the organizations and allows them to predict funding ahead of time. While it will certainly evolve, and probably result in a hybrid model for Roanoke, it is the development of a process that can properly adapt over time.
We believe Roanoke needs a better process, and the time to start developing this process is now. It is our hope that we will soon have a conference on this topic here in Roanoke and then go through public and executive director input sessions. The real questions still out there are when should the process begin, how long will it take to develop a fund large enough to give grants, and how will we continue to provide support during this time?
Still many questions, but we hope that beginning a flexible process should lead us to some answers that will prove to benefit all our organizations and certainly our vibrant community.
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