(Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
Bob Sicard is in charge of lining up partnerships for Artscape. He's the guy who has to find sponsors willing to put up enough cash to ensure that the country's largest free outdoor arts festival remains the country's largest free outdoor arts festival.
In a time of recession, in a city staring down a $121 million budget deficit, you'd think Sicard would be in a tough position. Trying to raise money at a time like this can't be easy, right?
But Sicard says that he's coming off his best year ever. Artscape 2010 has lined up about 30 corporate sponsors, pledging anywhere from $7,500 to $50,000, for a total of $362,000 — about one-third more than the $270,000 raised for 2009.
Certainly, there had been plenty of ominous rumblings. Saturn, a major sponsor for three years, had dropped out in 2008, and Artscape officials were unable to line up another automotive sponsor. (They still don't have one.)
Officials with the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, the nonprofit organization that arranges a host of free events throughout Baltimore, had already canceled the Thanksgiving Parade, deciding that declining attendance trumped the value of keeping the long-standing civic tradition going. The Preakness Parade and fireworks displays on the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve were saved only after corporate sponsors were persuaded to pick up the tab.
"I anticipated that it would be tough, based on 2009 and how the economy was going," says Sicard, who has been with Artscape for nine years. "I was preparing for the worst, that we were going to have to cut the budget. We thought a lot more people would say no, but this is my best [year] ever."
It seems that the Artscape brand is well enough known that companies, even those faced with declining ad budgets and sponsorship pools, are glad to get behind it. They know Artscape is pretty much guaranteed to attract hundreds of thousands of people, and that makes it attractive to companies looking to get the word out about their products and services.
Artscape 2010 is operating on a budget of about $864,000, says Bill Gilmore, executive director of the BOPA. Only $40,000 of that comes from the city, down from a peak of about $200,000. The rest comes from corporate sponsorships, vendor fees and grants, including $52,000 from the state.
"Everything we do, we need to raise the money," says Gilmore. "We're always in that mode."
And 2009 had not been a good year anywhere. "People were very nervous. They didn't know how bad things were going to be" with the economy, Gilmore says. "People were pulling back," adds Sicard. "That was when they first started worrying about [making] cuts. It was a lot harder."
But Artscape's track record as a major draw for Baltimoreans — police estimated attendance for Artscape 2009 at 385,000 — helped keep the sponsorships rolling in.
"Even last year, people were telling us that if they had marketing money, they were going to spend it at Artscape," Gilmore says. "It's a proven entity; they know they are going to get the numbers."
Selling the next Artscape begins almost as soon as each festival ends. "The staff really does a quick follow-up with all of our current sponsors," Gilmore says. "That's where it all starts, with the follow-up."
Within days of each festival's close, the BOPA staff starts putting together packets of material to send to existing and potential sponsors. The packages include attendance figures, testimonials, news clips, whatever might show sponsors that Artscape has become a brand they can count on.
"It has credibility out there," Sicard says. "A lot of these [advertising] agencies, they go from city to city, looking to hit their target demographic as quickly as possible, hit as many people as they can. With Artscape, they hit a huge number of people in one weekend."
Several companies either raised their contributions or joined for the first time in 2010. Target stores, which had contributed $35,000 last year, jumped to $50,000 this year and is sponsoring the Target Family Art Park, concentrating on hands-on activities for kids. First-time sponsor Wachovia Bank, also contributing $50,000, is sponsoring the main performance stage.
"We definitely felt that it was imperative that we support Artscape," says Craig Gajewski, regional sales and marketing manager for Wachovia, a Wells Fargo Company. That became especially important, he says, after BOPA officials made it clear such support would help keep Artscape free.
"We were told that, obviously, in lean economic times, that becomes a concern," Gajewski says, "especially for something that is typically financed through corporate sponsorships. We wanted to keep it free for members of the community. You wouldn't want to have to say that it used to be free, and now you've got to pay to get in."
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