Bloomberg Philanthropies handsomely rewards 26 Austin cultural groups

Money and training are part of $43 million campaign for small to medium groups.


Highlights

The grants from the charitable foundation were given by invitation only in select communities.

In a rare gift, the money is intended to cover operational expenses rather than specific programs.

Bloomberg Philanthropies has named 26 Austin cultural groups that will receive significant grants as well as management training as part of a $43 million second-wave campaign to strengthen small to medium-sized American arts nonprofits.

The charitable foundation — established by businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — chose the groups by invitation only in select cities.

“It was a complete shock,” said Ron Berry, artistic director of Austin recipient Fusebox Festival. “I was in the office reading an article about how Bloomberg was expanding into our region and remarked to the team about how exciting that was, and then we got an email from them about five minutes later.”

“The arts inspire people, provide jobs and strengthen communities,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “This program is aimed at helping some of the country’s most exciting cultural organizations reach new audiences and expand their impact.”

In May, Austin was named alongside Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., to receive a second round of Bloomberg grants valued at $43 million. Rare for this type of giving, the money is intended to cover operational expenses rather than specific programs.

RELATED: We salute $43 million in Bloomberg arts gifts

“We wanted to reach cities that we thought had a really strong mix in the way they were serving up arts and culture,” Kate Levin, who oversees arts programs for Bloomberg, told The New York Times in May.

Previously, the program had given $65 million to smaller groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In response to the news, Austin arts leaders talked about immediate needs, such as rent or replacement facilities and equipment, but also such longer-term strategies as marketing and development.

“Because our building has been sold, we must move in two years,” said Chris Cowden, longtime leader of Women & Their Work Gallery. “We have decided that, to avoid ever higher rents and the instability that brings, we must buy a building. Since the Bloomberg grant is earmarked for operating expenses, money that we would normally have to use for rent and salaries can now be set aside in a fund that will be used to buy that building.”

Finding new audiences is a high priority for long-established groups that have not reached their potential in the community.

“We are investing most of the funds into marketing, because that is what we believe will make the strongest impact,” said Ann Ciccolella, artistic director of Austin Shakespeare. “I am personally thrilled. It’s taken a long time to get to a $500,000 budget, and now it’s time for growth. With so many arts groups in the city learning new tactics together, I am hoping for powerful results.”

For some groups, the grant’s money takes a back seat to training. Bloomberg’s arts innovation and management program was devised by DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland.

“The grant comes with a wealth of consulting services and access to experts in the fields of marketing and development,” said Michelle Schumann, artistic director of the Austin Chamber Music Center. “I’m really thrilled to have the opportunity to up our game.”

The Bloomberg group instructs recipients to keep mum about the gift amounts, but an informal poll suggests that the grants equal 10 percent of their existing operating budgets.

“I am pumped,” said Jenny Larson, one of Salvage Vanguard Theater’s artistic directors. “This funding could not have come at a better time for us. Being in a place of transition with the venue and staff has made us feel off balance. This support gives me hope and confidence that over the next two years we can create a solid foundation for SVT to continue to grow from.”

What do local arts leaders want to do with the windfall?

“Everything,” said Lara Toner Haddock, artistic director of Austin Playhouse. “Seriously, there’s always a huge wish list of what we could do with extra funds. An unrestricted grant is so welcome.”

“I am as thrilled and excited as I remember being when we received our first grant ever in 1984,” said Sylvia Orozco, head of the Mexic-Arte Museum. “I am glowing. When you are young and daring, you believe you can do anything and accomplish everything you dream of. That’s how I felt then, and that is how I again feel now.”



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