How Fundraising Strengthens Arts Communities
The NPR pledge drive is coming up. So is Gala season. My mailbox overflows with beautiful letters from the Seattle Art Museum, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Velocity Dance Center. Every now and then, the phone rings and someone from ACT Theater or Seattle Symphony is asking me for “$500, please. Or maybe just $50? $25?”. And every time, my fiancé and I change the radio station, dump the letters in the recycling and politely decline the poor sap on the phone by saying “not today”.
For most of us, fundraising campaigns are annoyances. We wonder… how is it that PNB can charge $100 for tickets and still have the gall to ask me for more. But the fact of the matter is that arts organizations of every caliber, from American Ballet Theater to the tiniest dance company you’ve never heard of, would not exist without their patrons, donors, and sponsors. These people form a community that holds the company together. Patrons are the people who come to see the work they show. No dance company is going to produce two shows if no one comes to the first one.
But to produce a show, it takes more than just getting people in the door. For most arts organizations, ticket sales cover less than forty percent of their annual operating expenses. Donors take one more step to join the company on the ground level, patrons who step in with financial contributions to make it possible for the company to pay for the performance venue, rehearsal space, costumes, and dancer stipends. Sponsors are people and businesses that agree to support the company on a long-term basis.
These people- patrons, donors, and sponsors- are the foundation of every arts company. They are the ones who make the arts world turn, not the dancers, not the choreographers, not the directors or musicians or stage managers.
Without a supportive community, artists are paralyzed, unable to create and grow their work or make an impact on the wider world. When people contribute to a company they believe in, they become part of the company itself. As more and more people join that community, the company grows, is able to produce more and higher quality work. As the company develops, the community is strengthened in turn. They see the impact of their contribution in a visible and tangible way. The company and community become inseparable and indistinguishable, working closely together to make art happen and bolster its presence in the world.
Back to my mailbox. I’m the development director for a growing dance company, but I’m also a real person. I know that it would be impossible for me to contribute to every single organization that wants me to join them. I know that everyone reading this is in the same position. If we gave just $10 to every single art maker we believed in, we would be scrounging for rent money every month. We pick and choose. We make sure to feed ourselves, and keep a roof over our heads first and foremost. And then we treat ourselves. Most of the time, that treat comes to us as a fancy dinner, a new shirt, even a night at the theater. But once in awhile, let’s treat ourselves to real art-making, to getting in at the ground level and bringing art to life.
Thank you for being part of the Intrepidus Community.
Head of Development, Intrepidus Dance