ArtsBuild changing how it funds arts organizations

ArtsBuild changing how it funds arts organizations

February 19th, 2017 by Barry Courter in Local Regional News

Shane Morrow plays his piano at Jazzanooga on M.L. King Blvd.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Gallery: ArtsBuild changing how it funds arts organizations

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Co-chairs: Roger Brown and Peggy Townsend


Jeannine Alday

Suzy Anthony

Sally Faulkner

Patti Frierson

Drew Hibbard

Bryan Kelly

Mary Kilbride

Mary Tanner

Chris Thomas

Cultural partner executives

Dawn Oakes, Chattanooga Boys Choir

Henry Schulson, Creative Discovery Museum

Bob Willie, Chattanooga Ballet

Community representatives

Ellen Heavilon, Hart Gallery

Jim Hill, community volunteer

James McKissic, City of Chattanooga

Lillie Wills, community volunteer

Mike Bradshaw, Co.Lab


Mission Support Grants (general operating support)

These are available only to organizations with at least a $100,000 annual budget.

Community Cultural Connection Grants

Limited to a maximum of $2,000, these are available to underserved populations through neighborhood associations, inner-city churches, and social service nonprofits in Hamilton County.

Project/Program Grants

These new grants are only available to 501(c)(3) organizations that provide arts and cultural programming.

Current Cultural Partners

Association for Visual Arts

Ballet Tennessee

Bessie Smith Cultural Center

Chattanooga Ballet

Chattanooga Boys Choir

Chattanooga Girls Choir

Chattanooga Symphony & Opera

Chattanooga Theatre Centre

Creative Discovery Museum

Hunter Museum of American Art

Shaking Ray Levi Society

Southern Lit Alliance

ArtsBuild has some big changes in store for how it allocates funding and who can get it.

Beginning July 1, the leading organization for funding Chattanooga arts programming will restructure how the money it raises is disbursed and who can get it in hopes of reaching more arts organizations and more people in the community.

"The keyword is 'access,'" said ArtsBuild President Dan Bowers. "We want more people to have more access to the arts."

For the last 48 years, as few as five and as many as 16 arts organizations in Chattanooga could count on ArtsBuild — originally the Allied Arts Fund and later Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga — to help raise a portion of their annual operating funds. Part of Allied Arts' original mission was to be a single fundraising body for a select few agencies, and ArtsBuild has continued that effort. Until now.

The original arrangement streamlined the process and prevented multiple groups from calling on the same people for donations. That practice has worked for decades, but several factors have changed the local landscape: an uncertain economy, the increased number of local arts agencies and the loss of local philanthropists dedicated to the arts, either through death or corporations moving, closing or being bought by out-of-town owners. That old model will end on July 1, when ArtsBuild moves to a three-tiered method of doling out grants to a wider selection of arts organizations throughout the area, Bowers said.

"That's transformable," said Shane Morrow, Jazzanooga founder and director.

His 3-year-old organization, which presents concerts, workshops and classes, is one of the organizations that could benefit from access to ArtsBuild grants, something it didn't have before.

"This is fantastic news," Morrow said. "Really fantastic. We need to take a look at the way people look at the arts in our region. It is changing, and we need to take a fresh approach. And if this is what becomes the catalyst, then I'm all for it. We have to grow future audiences and future artists, so hopefully the money they are putting into this will help all of us."

He said he would love to partner with any and all arts groups in town.

"I would love to work with someone like the symphony on something that involved jazz or Jazzanooga."

But not everyone is as happy about the change.

No longer will groups like the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga Ballet or the Chattanooga Theatre Centre be guaranteed funding from ArtsBuild. Even if they do get money, it could be significantly less than they got even last year for some of the larger organizations, like the CSO and the Hunter Museum.

The CSO and Hunter now each get $200,000 annually from ArtsBuild, which last year represented 8 and 7 percent of their operating budgets, respectively. The new plan will ultimately cut that to no more than 10 percent of whatever ArtsBuild has raised for its Mission Support Grants. That number is now about $800,000. Bowers said the ArtsBuild board decided it could not make such a drastic cut in one year, so a three-year step-down process will be put into place. The exact number of the reduction has not been determined, but it will likely be somewhere around $40,000, meaning those two groups would receive around $160,000 for fiscal year 2017-18.

"It's definitely going to impact us," says the Hunter's executive director, Virginia Anne Sharber.

"We are extremely grateful to ArtsBuild for everything they've done for us and we would not be where we are without them," she said, "but we are going to have to sit down and look at how this is going to affect our funding. Every dollar is critical to us."

The move is also about leveling the playing field to a degree.

In the past, the organization was criticized, even by some of its own cultural partners, for giving so much of its funding to two or three organizations. In 2007, for example, the CSO received $490,000 while the Hunter got $365,000 out of the $1,513,450 total available.

CSO Executive Director Samantha Teter said the symphony has been doing a good job of tightening its budget and raising funds on its own since ArtsBuild began cutting its funding in 2012 as the economy worsened and donations dropped.

"But it means once again there is another bucket of money we have to find somewhere," she said. "I understand the need to fund more arts organizations, but I do feel like we are being penalized for being such a large organization."

And there is no guarantee that the 12 arts organizations that are now cultural partners will receive any ongoing operating support, Bowers said. Each will have to apply for grants like everyone else, which Bowers said is more about opening up arts funding to a growing community than turning its back on old allies. Nor was it a decision that was made quickly or without much discussion.

"It really started with Imagine Chattanooga 2020," he said. "That was a real eye-opener."

The strategic arts and culture plan was conducted by consultant Dr. Thomas Wolf in 2011. Basically, it concluded that in the past groups like ArtsBuild approached fundraising as "What can the community do for the arts?" when it should be "What can the arts do for the community?"

The whole community.

"We are not walking away from these 12 cultural partners," Bowers said, "but more money will be spent on the broader community."

"It really is about access for everyone," said Rodney Van Valkenburg, director of grants and initiatives.

There are certain criteria that must be met for each grant, and a new committee made up of current ArtsBuild board members is being assembled to assess each application and make the recommendations for who gets what.

Access counts for 50 percent of the total score, with financial sustainability (25), quality (15), collaboration (5) and support of ArtsBuild and the arts community (5) being the remaining criteria. Access covers topics such as outreach, education, organizational diversity efforts and marketing strategies designed to attract a diverse audience.

The committee will assess the applications and make their recommendation by the middle of June.

"It's all about more arts for more people in more places," Van Valkenburg said.

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.