By Maria Saporta
Two midsize Atlanta arts organizations have received sizable “capitalization” grants from Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund – an initiative of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.
Atlanta Celebrates Photography received a $160,000 grant; and the Horizon Theatre Co. received a $180,000 grant. The two grants are among the largest grants ever made by the Metropolitan Arts Fund.
They are part of a pilot Arts Capitalization program that began last year when the Fund awarded the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center a $200,000 grant. At that time, both Atlanta Celebrates Photography and the Horizon Theatre Co. were finalists for the pilot program grant.
The pilot program was launched last year after two years of research and education on capitalization to improve the financial sustainability of small and midsize arts organizations.
Each of the three finalist organizations worked with a consultant to develop a capitalization plan tailored to their organization’s business and strategic plan. Funding for the capitalization program came from the Zeist Foundation, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and the R. Howard Dobbs, Jr. Foundation. Other supporters include the Coca-Cola Co. and PNC Bank.
“The Arts Fund is thrilled to be able to support Horizon Theatre and Atlanta Celebrates Photography in addition to the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center,” said Lisa Cremin, director of the Arts Fund, in a statement. “All three organizations have excellent plans for how to make their organizations financially stronger for the long term.”
Cremin went on to say the partnership with local foundations and corporations enabled the Atlanta community to support three significant cultural organizations.
“Historically, many small-to-midsize arts groups have thin financial resources and little if any cushion,” she said. “A study we did in 2011 showed that most of the region’s strongest arts groups had less than three months of liquidity, placing them at great risk when unexpected events and opportunities occur.”
The Metro Atlanta Arts Fund’s capitalization initiative promotes a “healthier, more sustainable business model, not only for individual organizations, but for the region’s small and midsize arts organizations” in the Atlanta region, she continued.
“Being ‘well capitalized’ means that an arts organization has the resources to meet its artistic mission; build reserves for stable operations; has access to cash for artistic programs in their strategic plan; pays staff leaders fair salaries; and is able to take care of facilities and fixed assets,” Cremin said.
The Capitalization initiative launched in October 2013, when the Arts Fund confidentially invited six arts organizations to submit preliminary concepts for how they would use a major capitalization grant. From that group of six, three finalists were given the opportunity to expand their concepts into full blown capitalization strategies supported by significant consulting.
The finalists worked extensively with capitalization-trained consultants to develop a capitalization plan and presentation in the mode of a business investment pitch. The finalists had multiple coaching sessions with business executives to refine their capitalization pitches. The Arts Fund’s goal was that each finalist would come out of the process with a thoroughly vetted, donor-ready capitalization proposal that was in line with its strategic plan and capable of sustaining a firm financial footing for the organization over time. Further, the Arts Fund sought to build the organizations’ skill at presenting their case for further investment.
“The capitalization program is one of many ways the Arts Fund innovates in our region,” said Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, in a press release. “We believe that the capitalization strategy is fundamental and can be transformative for many sizes and types of nonprofits. We are proud to be piloting the capitalization strategy with the Arts Fund’s small and midsize organizations.”
According to Charlene Crusoe Ingram, Arts Fund advisory committee chair, all three finalists delivered impressive capitalization pitches. “Their capitalization plans were all thoughtful and worthy of funding,” she said. “What we saw confirms that great thinking happens when an arts group has the freedom to plan for a solid balance sheet. With the momentum that this project has started, the Arts Fund is delighted that other arts donors are participating in this program, allowing us to expand the capitalization effort going forward.”
Amy Miller, executive director of Atlanta Celebrates Photography (ACP) said “This opportunity allows ACP to focus on internal strengthening of our balance sheet and revenue generation – which will help move us beyond our current vulnerability of annual funding uncertainties into organizational sustainability, long term planning and multi-year budgeting. This growth will enable us to more dynamically explore with our audiences how photography can be a tool for creating, sharing, learning and healing. ACP can more readily produce our core program, the largest annual community-oriented photography festival in the United States – serving a larger audience and becoming a regional draw to metro Atlanta.
Upon learning that Horizon Theatre Company was receiving support for their capitalization plan, Lisa Adler, co-artistic and producing director said, “the process of capitalization planning has already strengthened our organization. This investment in our organization will lead to a stronger balance sheet as we bring successful theatrical productions that are thriving in our home theater in Little Five Points to new locations in the broader metro Atlanta region. The board of directors, the artists and the staff at Horizon Theatre are thrilled to receive this capitalization grant.”
In shaping the arts capitalization pilot, the Arts Fund worked with the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), based in New York. NFF is the nation’s premier thought leader on nonprofit financing and specializes in innovative models.
For the Arts Fund, over the past two-years, NFF provided educational programs on capitalization to regional Atlanta arts groups and donors, plus in-depth training for 10 Atlanta-area nonprofit consultants on the development of capitalization plans. Concurrently the Arts Fund has laid groundwork by convening corporations and foundations with an interest in arts philanthropy to discuss capitalization as a fundamental thrust for strengthening local arts groups.