The arts get a shot in arm

February 18, 1994

Though the romantic view has it that artists and their organizations cheerfully subsist on shoe-string budgets with hardly a care for tomorrow, the reality is that theaters, symphony orchestras and museums are subject to the same hard fiscal realities that govern any large enterprise. They have to balance their books every year, repay their debts and maintain a credit rating. Most important, they have to manage their finances as carefully as any business in order for the arts to flourish.

Recognizing that the viability of local arts groups depends so heavily on long-term financial stability, 40 area foundations, corporations and private donors established the Baltimore Arts Stabilization Project. The BASP operates as a joint venture with the National Arts Stabilization Fund, a consortium of the Ford Foundation and other national donors whose goal is to help arts HTC groups establish a firm financial footing.

Last summer, the BASP awarded grants of $1 million each to Center Stage, the Walters Art Gallery and the Baltimore Museum of Art. In January the project awarded an additional $1 million to the Maryland Institute College of Art and $623,798 to the Baltimore Opera Company. The size of the grants was determined by a fixed formula based on the size of the institution's operating budget and other measures of financial well-being.

To qualify for the grants, each organization had to undergo a rigorous financial and management review process. The donor groups worked closely with each recipient to help them strengthen their internal financial reporting, update or develop integrated, comprehensive long-range plans and develop effective board and management structures commited to the long-term artistic growth of the organization and the need to fund it. All five grantees have been working through this process with the NASF since 1991.

The grants will be paid out over the next five years and are designed to help assure the continued fiscal well-being of the organizations by creating working capital reserve funds to ease the pressure on short term cash flow. The grants cannot be used for day-to-day operations and do not reduce the organizations' need to continue their annual fund-raising efforts.

The NASF has developed similar projects in Boston, Arizona, Missouri, Seattle and New York City. So far it has awarded some $28 million to 42 arts organizations in the six stabilization projects currently under way. This much-needed investment is helping arts groups across the country better serve their communities.

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