Why support non-profit arts and the United Cultural Fund

Broome County Arts Council’s United Cultural Fund opened its 2012 Campaign on November 3rd with “An Artful Evening with NPR’s Susan Stamberg, a fundraising event at the Binghamton Riverwalk Hotel, featuring National Public Radio’s premier arts correspondent. UCF 2012 is the only combined campaign for the arts in the region and seeks to raise $308,325 for competitive grants to non-profit arts and cultural organizations, community non-profits and individual artists in Broome County. In a speech to Binghamton Rotary #64 yesterday (December 13th), BCAC’s Executive Director Sharon Ball explained how the UCF helps sustain arts non-profits for the benefit of the entire community.

Thank you very much. I’m grateful for the invitation to speak to you this afternoon. I know the good work that Rotary does all over the world and I commend you for the good work that Rotary does here in this community.

What a year it’s been for our community! First the economy, then the economy, then the economy, and then the second 100 year flood in 5 years. Another hit, another blow to the body of this already challenged region and the people who are determined to stay here, to do business here, care for their families and friends here, and maintain their neighborhoods – right here in the once renowned “valley of opportunity”.

In times like these when there is so much need for food, clothing shelter, basic health, safety and recovery, WHY – you might ask – should we be talking about the arts? It’s a good question and one that I hope to answer in part by bringing the idea of the arts down to earth and giving them a human face. . . perhaps even the face of someone you know.

(Begin Power Point Slideshow: “Arts in the county 2011”)

These images were collected by people who are out there doing the arts – and I mean ALL of them from music to architecture – here in Greater Binghamton and Broome County. As you can see, there’s tremendous variety and vitality in the faces of these friends, neighbors, men, women and children. The arts for them are not abstract or elite or outside their experience. The arts are central to their lives. And non-profit arts organizations and community groups are central to the provision of arts that employ, educate, engage and yes – enlighten – people about their own creative fire and the possibilities that can result.

To be a non-profit arts organization, you must have a charitable purpose – one that benefits the public. Non-profit does NOT mean that you cannot sell tickets, or earn revenue or expect to pay for the goods and services that you need to build your sets, store your costumes, buy your paints, or pay your salaries, mortgage, your rent, your insurance bills and yes – your payroll and unemployment taxes. Non-profit businesses ARE required to pay these taxes just like their for-profit counterparts. And like for-profit business, non-profits also are subject to government regulation.

Non-profits are legally accountable for all those charitable donations and grant awards. Non-profits who don’t take good care of their finances and their charitable business assets risk losing their non-profit status and perhaps much worse – the goodwill and trust of their communities.

Now, we know that non-profits in human services and social justice are doing serious work for the community. Non-profit arts and cultural organizations are no less serious – just because the work they do is something that makes us feel good, something we enjoy. And it’s because we enjoy the arts that we can so easily take them for granted because we think what they’re doing is not actual work! It’s part of the mission of the Broome County Arts Council to tell the whole story of the arts and the non-profits who provide the majority of arts for the public, to lift the curtain on what it takes to make the them happen. We know that “where the arts go, improvement follows” and the evidence is all around us.

“Where the arts go, improvement follows” are the words of my board chairman Fred Xlander and the adopted theme of the Broome County Arts Council’s United Cultural Fund Campaign for 2012. The UCF is the only active combined campaign for the arts in our entire region and one of fewer than 60 such active programs in the whole country.

The UCF is 24 years old and despite the hard times of those 24 years, local government, local foundations, local businesses, local corporations, and local individuals made support for the UCF a priority because maintaining the arts were and are a priority for this community. Who benefits? We all do.

UCF grantees produce arts, music and educational programming that serves more than 200,000 Broome County residents and visitors each year, including about 80,000 children and youth. UCF grantees return more than $4 million dollars annually to Broome County’s economy.  The UCF provides an effective, centralized, ACCOUNTABLE mechanism for tax-deductible contributions to the arts in our community.

For 2011, thanks to donors and contributors from all walks of life, Broome County Arts Council was able to award UCF grants totaling $271,000.
General operating support grant recipients were

  • Tri-Cities Opera
  • Roberson Museum & Science Center
  • Binghamton Philharmonic
  • Endicott Performing Arts Center
  • Art Mission & Theater
  • Goodwill Theatre, Inc.

UCF project grantees were:

  • Binghamton Downtown Singers Spring Concert 2011
  • Binghamton Youth Symphony Annual Spring Concert 2011
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of Binghamton after school performing arts program for disadvantaged youth
  • Deposit Community Theatre and Performing Arts Center, Inc. “Little Old Lady Laugh Out Loud” original theatre production
  • Mario Maroni: “Crossroads” International Literary Festival
  • Phelps Mansion Museum Second Sunday at the Phelps concerts
  • Santino DeAngelo: “Blood Wedding” theatre production & anti-violence youth outreach
  • St. Ambrose Church: Basically Bach Ensemble concerts
  • Summer Savoyards, Inc. production of “Patience” by Gilbert & Sullivan
  • Susan Rambo: Windsor’s Window on the Arts Music & Arts Festival
  • Windsor Whip Works Arts Center Artists Alliance

Last month, we kicked off the 2012 United Cultural Fund campaign in a spirit of hope. . just weeks after the terrible September floods. NPR’s Susan Stamberg came to Binghamton from Washington D.C. to headline our fundraising event at the flood-damaged Binghamton Riverwalk Hotel.

NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg

Susan Stamberg visits Binghamton November 3, 2011

People were there who only weeks before were shoveling mud out of their basements and who may have still had clean-up work to do when they went home. Susan Stamberg covers the arts for National Public Radio and I used to work with her in my former life as public radio journalist and editor.

Here’s one of the things that Susan Stamberg said that night and I quote:
“Art — great art — takes us away from the present, and engages, clears, airs out our minds — not only as respite, but so that we can go back to our realities refreshed — better able to do the ordinary and difficult tasks at hand.”

The arts are NOT an ornament. They are part of the fabric of this community and nourish the spirit that keeps us going and creating, despite fire and flood. Once long ago, E-J paid for the arts and entertainment that people here enjoyed. Today, investing in the arts for the public’s sake is our responsibility as a community, because we know that despite everything – including fire and floods – the arts are the heart of the quality of life, here in this special place we call home. Thank you.

Editor’s Note: You can donate on-line to the 2012 United Cultural Fund Campaign

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