Column: ‘Something transformational’ happening at Atlanta BalletGennadi Nedvigin, the relatively new artistic director of the Atlanta Ballet, with dancers (Special: Atlanta Ballet)
By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on August 25, 2017
As the Atlanta Ballet experiences an artistic transformation, it is launching the public phase of its “The Time is Now” campaign. The $23.5 million campaign is focused on the company’s artistic programming as well as building its endowment. So far, $15.1 million has been raised towards the campaign.
The largest donation to the campaign has come from the Thalia N. and Chris M. Carlos Foundation – a $3 million challenge grant to underwrite the Atlanta Ballet’s new Nutcracker production, which will debut in December 2018. The Carlos gift and the match would cover the $6 million cost to revamp the Nutcracker.
The campaign also has received several other major gifts. Of the $15.1 million that’s been raised, $8 million has come from board members (including Chris Carlos). It also included a $2 million anonymous gift, according to Steven Libman, the Atlanta Ballet’s chief advancement officer.
Other major donors include the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, which made a gift of $1.25 million; the City of Atlanta, which has provided a $1 million grant; and the PNC Foundation, which has awarded $500,000 to support the Atlanta Ballet’s performances and education programs through 2024.
All of this has been occurring during a transition in artistic leadership at the company. The company has a new artistic director – Gennadi Nedvigin – who served as the principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, where he spent nearly 20 years.
Nedvigin became the Atlanta Ballet’s fourth artistic director a year ago, succeeding John McFall, who had been with the company for 21 years.
In April, nearly half of the Atlanta Ballet’s dancers – including four of its stars – decided to leave the company. Eight dancers were not offered contracts to return.
“We are about three weeks into the new dance season, and we have only increased the actual size of the company,” said Arturo Jacobus, the Atlanta Ballet’s president and CEO, in an interview. “We are now about a 32-member company, an increase of four dancers. In my opinion, we have dramatically improved upon the quality, training and background of our dancers. By the time we get into the season, I think our audience will witness something transformational with the Atlanta Ballet.”
Jacobus said that Nedvigin’s international connections with choreographers and dance professionals will add to the stature of the Atlanta Ballet.
All these changes that have come with Nedvigin’s leadership will help complete the fundraising campaign, Jacobus added.
“It’s a Godsend,” Jacobus said in a telephone interview on Aug. 22. “The excitement that is being built about and around him is extraordinary.”
Libman agreed. “Our fundraising has just accelerated.”
In all, the campaign is seeking to raise $10 million for the endowment and $13.5 million for programming and other related initiatives.
For example, $1.3 million will go towards access and education, reaching more than 22,000 students through its Centre for Dance Education.
The campaign includes $8 million to build audiences – $6 million for the new Nutcracker and $2 million for balanced programming, providing more of the popular classical favorites as well as a variety of dance styles.
About $900,000 is going towards maintenance and capital expenditures, and $3.3 million for strategic operating capital over the next five years.
Libman said the most difficult money to raise will be for the endowment. Before the campaign, the Atlanta Ballet had about $2 million in endowment. Of the $15.1 million that’s been raised, nearly $3 million has been earmarked for the endowment, which means that it still needs to raise about $7 million for that purpose.
Libman said he expects to raise the funds for the endowment through estate planning and planned gifts, which “will take a little longer” to realize. “The rest of the campaign should be completed by December 2018,” Libman said.
The Atlanta Ballet, founded in 1929, is the oldest ballet company in nation. In view of the campaign and the artistic changes, Jacobus was effusive about the direction of the Atlanta Ballet, saying: “I have never been more excited about the future of a company than I am right now with the Atlanta Ballet.”
Sheltering Arms, the largest nonprofit early education and childcare organization in Georgia, unveiled a new brand and a new center on Aug. 23, when it opened the Barack and Michelle Obama Academy, formerly the D.H. Stanton Elementary School.
The new 26,600-square-foot building will open its doors on Aug. 28, and serve approximately 180 children and their families of mixed incomes in the Peoplestown community. It is Sheltering Arms’ 16th location in metro Atlanta, and it will provide care to children six weeks to five years of age and serve as a partner with Atlanta Public Schools.
“We are so excited about this brand new facility and the opportunity to impact the lives of children and families in this community,” said Blythe Keeler Robinson, president and CEO of Sheltering Arms. “Studies show that when children attend a high-quality early learning program, they’re more prepared for kindergarten and are more likely to succeed in school, graduate high school and college, and earn higher incomes as adults.”
Sheltering Arms completed a capital campaign for the center earlier this year, receiving New Markets Tax Credits and support from a partnership between Invest Atlanta, Bank of America and Reinvestment Fund. Other contributions included a lead gift from the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation as well as gifts from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the James M. Cox Foundation, the Marcus Foundation, the Tull Charitable Foundation and more than 150 civic donors.
Sheltering Arms, founded in 1888, has also unveiled a new brand strategy that elevates the organization’s identity and reflects its vision for the future.
“While our work has always started with children, the new brand signifies our expanded efforts to empower families and play an integral role in helping entire communities thrive,” Keeler Robinson said. “We want to appeal to a broader audience as relevant and innovative and as a well-established leader in early childhood education.”
Key elements of the new brand include a new visual identity, including a bold, energetic color scheme. Sheltering Arms aims to be “the standard for early childhood education, and it believes it is an imperative to embrace early education.
Atlantan John Hope Bryant, the founder and CEO of Operation HOPE, also has an entrepreneurial side, which he recently unveiled.
Promise Homes Co., a newly-formed single-family residential rental property asset manager, has launched $130 million in initial funding from private investors.
Bryant founded Promise Homes as an innovative business model that seeks to provide residents with quality housing at affordable prices as well as free financial and economic support services through a contract with Operation HOPE—the leading non-profit, global provider of financial dignity education and economic empowerment programs.
“Promise Homes was established with the clear objective of creating a new relationship between owner, resident and the community,” Bryant said. “We know that by supporting residents with financial and economic support services through Operation HOPE, we will be able to improve the lives of residents, while also making Promise Homes a stronger and more resilient company. By treating residents as partners in shared prosperity, Promise Homes will also improve the communities that it serves. Promise Homes will do well by doing good.”
Promise Homes also announced its first acquisition of a $22 million portfolio of single-family homes in the Atlanta area, making Promise Homes one of the largest minority-controlled owners of institutional-quality, single-family residential rental homes in the U.S. “This initial transaction demonstrates both the power of our real estate expertise as well as our desire to impact communities throughout the metropolitan Atlanta area,” Bryant added. “This is an important step for both Atlanta and our business model that embraces our residents as partners.”