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Maria Saporta ATL Business Chronicle

Column: Woodruff Arts Center raises $49 million, plants seeds for future

Maria Saporta
Woodruff Arts Center Woodruff Arts Center (Photo by Maria Saporta)

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Aug. 9,  2019

The Woodruff Arts Center was able to raise an impressive total of $49 million during its fiscal year that ended on May 31.

Woodruff Arts Center

Woodruff Arts Center (Photo by Maria Saporta)

In addition to meeting its $13 million goal for its corporate campaign, the Arts Center also raised almost $14 million in special gifts and bequests during its annual fundraising drive.

Also, the individual divisions – the High Museum of Art, the Alliance Theatre and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra – raised a total of about $22 million in their specific fundraising efforts.

Doug Shipman, CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, said the vast majority of the $14 million in special gifts came from three donors – who each made significant “seven-figure” gifts.

  • Farideh and Ali Azadi, who made their wealth in the automotive industry, were able to secure the naming rights of the Arts Center’s atrium in front of the Alliance and Symphony Hall;
  • A gift was made in honor of Molly Blank, the mother of Arthur Blank, co-founder of The Home Depot Inc. (NYSE: HD) and majority owner of the Atlanta Falcons. That gift will focus on giving middle-schoolers an opportunity to engage with the Arts Center; and
  • The Goizueta Foundation’s gift will allow for electronic and online streaming as well as outdoor simulcasting of ASO concerts and events. Also its gift will go towards supporting collaborations between the Arts Center and other local arts organizations.

Shipman said it took longer to report the results for the last fiscal year because its IT system was hacked in mid-April.

“We had a third-party incursion, and it shut down a whole lot of our systems,” Shipman said. “We slowly got everything back online, and we have hardened our infrastructure.”

John Yates

John Yates at the offices of Morris, Manning & Martin (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The overall $49 million raised reinforced several initiatives the Arts Center has undertaken to broaden its reach.

“The campus has worked very hard on big initiatives, such as family day and festivals,” Shipman said. “We also have been diversifying the organization.”

The ASO, the High and the Alliance all have initiatives to encourage the artistic development of minorities through fellowships. And the entire Center has worked hard to diversify its audience to better represent the Atlanta region.

John Yates, a partner of Morris, Manning & Martin, chaired the 2018/2019 corporate campaign and made sure they were able to meet their $13 million goal. The previous year, the goal also had been $13 million but it fell short – raising $12.3 million.

“There are a lot of competing interests in the city right now,” Yates said in an interview. “The best arts resource that we have is the Woodruff Arts Center. It’s the gem and the cornerstone of the arts community. It’s the high-profile diamond we need to continue to polish.”

Shipman, however, said fundraising trends are changing.

“We are certainly seeing a couple of trends in the way corporations want to engage with us,” Shipman said. “They want to find ways to engage their employees, and they want to combine their philanthropy with sponsorships and marketing. We are moving away from companies just writing a check.”

During the past year, Yates also focused his efforts on “new economy” companies.

“That’s a community I know pretty well,” Yates said. “It’s a group that we spent a fair amount of time trying to nurture and explain the importance of the arts to the community. It’s important for the people to know what Atlanta has to offer.”

Yates also said it’s in the best interest of technology companies to partner with the Arts Center as a way to nurture Atlanta’s “creative economic ecosystem” and appeal to the creative talent they need to grow their businesses.

“When you think about where the growth is in the community, it’s largely from these growing technology companies,” Yates said. “Many of the founders of these companies are getting older. Many are having children. There’s a greater appreciation for the community. And a number of them have done really well financially. We have got to continue to grow from the ground up.”

Shipman said the Woodruff Arts Center is being strategic by appealing to Atlanta’s entrepreneurial community.

“In 15 to 20 years, we are going to have new companies and new philanthropists,” he said. “We want to develop relationships with them now. A lot of these companies need creative talent in their workforce. We are trying to plant those seeds today.”

Leo Benatar honors his late son

One of Atlanta’s longtime business leaders – Leo Benatar – will hold the third annual “Rockin for the Cure” concert during the afternoon of Aug. 18 at Nowak’s Restaurant in the Morningside area.

The concert is a benefit for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (CCF) in Atlanta, and it is being held in the memory of Morris Benatar, who died three-and-a-half years ago following complications from a surgery related to the disease.

“My parents have been active supporters of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (CCF) in Atlanta and were, in fact, founders of the chapter when my brother was diagnosed in the early 70’s,” Ruth Falkenstein wrote in an email.

Leo Benatar, who was CEO of Engraph Corp. and served on the board of Aaron’s, has been a fixture in the Atlanta community for decades. He and his wife, Louise, also honored their son by making a gate naming gift to Georgia Tech. The elder Benatar also earned his master’s degree at Georgia Tech in 2016 at the age of 86 (he had earned his industrial engineering degree at Georgia Tech in 1951).

Falkenstein said they started the Rockin for the Cure event three years ago in her brother’s memory. “Our family underwrites all of the expenses so that all proceeds earned go directly to Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation to help find a cure,” she wrote. “In the first year, our event was held on a smaller scale and we raised approximately $6,000. Last year, we expanded and raised over $16,000. This year, we are hoping to continue our growth and hope to raise over $30,000, including getting some corporate sponsorships.”

The event will be held from 4 to 7 p.m., and it is open to the general public of all ages.

Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative CEO

Theia Smith, the founding executive director of the nation’s first and only city-funded initiative for women entrepreneurs, has resigned from her post.

The initiative was founded in 2014 with support from then Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. The city invested financially in the incubator program for women-owned businesses.

During her tenure, Smith oversaw the incubation of two 15-month cohorts, each comprised of 15 high-impact women entrepreneurs with translated into the graduation of 30 women-owned Atlanta businesses.

Theia Smith

“Without a blueprint, Theia envisioned and created, a model of inclusivity for women entrepreneurs, that we should all feel proud of,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a statement. “Her commitment to carving WEI into a pillar for women seeking to bring their bold ideas and business dreams to life, has significantly impacted our quest to be the most inclusive city, we can be. I am deeply appreciative of her pioneering efforts.”

Smith, who did not respond to an email asking why she resigned or about her next move, said in a release that she was “immensely proud of overseeing the development and launch of this hallmark program.”

Eloisa Klementich, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta, said WEI has become one of the most successful programs for accelerating female entrepreneurship in the city.

The city is searching for a successor to run the initiative.

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Maria Saporta
Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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