Art institute and opera company to receive $1.6 million in grants

January 27, 1994|By John Dorsey and Stephen Wigler | John Dorsey and Stephen Wigler,Sun Staff Writers

Two of Baltimore's prominent arts institutions -- the Maryland Institute, College of Art and the Baltimore Opera Company -- will receive major grants as part of a nationwide program to ensure the health of arts organizations.

The institute will receive $1 million and the opera company $623,798.

The grants will be announced today by the New York-based National Arts Stabilization Fund (NASF), a 10-year-old organization that has awarded 42 grants for $28.1 million to arts organizations from New York City to Seattle.

Today's grants are part of about $6 million NASF said it would award six Baltimore arts organizations. Last July, fund officials announced grants of $1 million each to the Baltimore Museum of Art, Center Stage and the Walters Art Gallery. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is still in the process of qualifying for a grant.

"We are entering a fiscally difficult period for all the arts, and this couldn't come at a better time, both as a shot of resources and for forcing us to be more responsible in our [fiscal] reporting," said Maryland Institute president Fred Lazarus, hailing the NASF program.

Michael Harrison, director of the Baltimore Opera, called the grant "a great catalyst for raising more money [because] an important national foundation has, in effect, invested its trust in us."

The NASF, whose funding comes primarily from the Ford Foundation, has worked with Baltimore and five other communities -- Boston, Kansas City, Arizona, Seattle and New York -- to strengthen their arts institutions. The NASF requires that each community form a committee to nominate arts institutions for grants, and to raise $2 for each $1 the NASF pledges.

Although two-thirds of the grant money is raised locally, the NASF approves all grants to the arts organizations.

The local committee, the Baltimore Arts Stabilization Project (BASP), chaired by businessman Joseph M. Langmead, has so far raised $3.8 million, including a $1.75 million contribution from the Abell Foundation.

Mr. Langmead said the BASP is "very pleased with the pace of the grants and the impact of the grants, and the related technical assistance, which is every bit as important as the grant money in terms of achieving the stabilization objectives."

It is "premature" to say when the BSO's grant will be announced, said NASF president Leonard Vignola. "We're working with them and moving toward the goal," he said. To get an NASF grant, organizations have to undergo a rigorous process of financial refining and long-range planning.

A non-profit arts organization must be in good financial health to qualify for an NASF grant. It must have an operating budget of at least $500,000 and a deficit of no more than 25 percent of operating expenses for the preceding fiscal year.

The fiscal refining process involves an organization's reporting on a balance sheet basis similar to that of successful businesses. The purpose of this is to predict the future more accurately.

Grants to individual institutions are based on a percentage of their budgets, with a $1 million ceiling. The Baltimore Symphony, with a budget of $17.2 million, will be eligible for a $1 million grant.

The six organizations already nominated for grants are the only ones in Baltimore to qualify under NASF guidelines.

A grant can only be used for two purposes. Part can match funds the institution raises to eliminate a current operating deficit. The Maryland Institute has no operating deficit; the opera will use $79,514 of its grant to eliminate half its deficit, and must raise an equal amount by the end of June 1995.

The rest of the grant goes into a capital reserve, given in increments over five years. Of the five grant recipients announced so far, Center Stage, the BMA and the Maryland Institute have already received their first installments. The Walters is in the process of looking for a new director; under the terms of its agreement with NASF it will receive its first installment a month after the new director takes office. The opera company will receive its first payment after its grant term begins July 1.

The capital reserve fund can be tapped for projects, such as planning a season, or to get the organization through a lean period. But it must be paid back each year, which in effect makes the organization its own lender.

The Maryland Institute will have its entire $1 million to use as a reserve. The opera company will have $544,283.

Mr. Lazarus said the institute plans to add to the grant money to create a reserve fund equal to about 10 percent of its annual budget -- now $16 million.

The institute is currently launched on a $22 million capital campaign to enhance facilities and endowment, of which more than $15 million has been raised so far, including the NASF grant. The institute's endowment now stands at about $10 million, and Mr. Lazarus said the goal is to raise it to the point where it equals one year's budget.

Mr. Harrison said the opera company, which has an annual budget of $2.35 million and essentially no endowment, will launch a capital funds drive in 1996 to improve facilities and equipment. Currently, he added, there are no plans for an endowment drive.

"The important thing is that the NASF has insisted on maintaining the artistic imperative," Mr. Harrison said. "This not only puts us in a position where no future debts will be incurred, but one in which we expect to be able to present a quality product."

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