Building a regional arts hub

By Todd Cohen

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Artists and arts groups in the Triangle wanting to hold “pop-up” events, and property owners with available space, can turn to a pop-up toolkit, prepared with the help of law students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The toolkit spells out logistics and details of planning and staging the events, from permits and insurance to rules on access to parking and restrooms.

Emerging local arts leaders who want to increase their arts revenue through more effective use of marketing, social media, fundraising and other business functions can attend monthly workshops, while photographers, filmmakers, writers and other creative artists can learn about copyright law and other legal issues at monthly talks by lawyers.

And artists, nonprofit and for-profit arts groups in the region, and anyone else looking for information, resources or opportunities, from funding  and technical support to exhibit and performance space and calendars, can visit a website devoted to arts in the region.

Spearheading all those efforts is Triangle ArtWorks, a nonprofit formed in 2010 that aims to serve as a resource hub and advocate for the region’s arts community.

“We are working to make it easier for artists and arts organizations and businesses to thrive, which is good for the entire Triangle, not just the artists,” says Beth Yerxa, executive director and co-founder of Triangle ArtWorks.

When she chaired the Raleigh Arts Commission in the 2000s, Yerxa and Leigh Ann Wilder, who at the time served on a Commission panel and now is director of arts in communities for the North Carolina Arts Council, saw a gap in resources and infrastructure for the region’s arts community.

“There were a lot of organizations doing various levels of support for different types of artists,” such as fundraising by local arts councils, or professional support for segments of the arts community such as visual artists, says Yerxa. “But no one really was looking at how best to get the arts, as a business community, the resources they need to thrive and be financially sustainable.”

Lawyers, in comparison, can turn to county, state and national bar associations for professional development, networking, insurance, newsletters and other resources, says Yerxa, a lawyer.

But as a “business community,” she says, “artists have nobody doing that work.”

So she and Wilder launched Triangle ArtsWorks.

An all-volunteer nonprofit that operates with an annual budget of $10,000, and 30 to 40 active volunteers, the group serves artists and arts groups, both nonprofit and for-profit, in Chatham, Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake counties.

It operates in The Frontier in Research Triangle Park in space donated by Research Triangle Foundation.

And with a total of roughly $10,000 in grants from Duke Energy Foundation, Durham Arts Council and the Town of Cary, it has been building its own organizational infrastructure — including development of its board and raising money — with the assistance of consultant Maggie Clay Love.

The group also is redesigning a digital platform it built, including a website, database and social media network, to connect and provide resources for anyone involved or interested in the arts.

Triangle ArtWorks also is talking with local arts councils throughout the region about expanding its program of two professional-development workshops a month for artists and arts groups.

Its board recently created a fundraising committee that initially aims to raise $70,000 — including $10,000 through December — to continue to strengthen its organizational “capacity.”

And Yerxa, a member of the North Carolina Small Business Alliance who quips she has “no arts bone in my body,” works with a range of economic development and planning organizations to connect the worlds of business and the arts, and raise awareness about the value each adds to the other and to the region.

“The arts enrich our lives,” says Yerxa. “The arts create jobs and are jobs. Artists are innovators. If the Triangle is building itself as a technology and innovative community, the arts need to be part or that.”

In high gear: The NCAR Dashboard

[Note: This article was written for MPrint, the magazine of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and was published in its summer 2017 issue.]

By Todd Cohen

In 1987, the year Zenetta Drew joined the Dallas Black Dance Theatre as executive director, the 10-year-old company unveiled an ambitious growth plan: find and move into downtown quarters; begin a touring program; pay full-time salaries to its dancers.

It was a tough time for arts organizations; the much older and larger Dallas Ballet had just announced it was facing financial distress, and folded soon after. And Drew had no professional arts training.

For the previous 12 years, she had held accounting and management jobs at ARCO Oil and Gas Co. But she knew how to use data. Over countless hours, she studied the Dance Theatre’s books, organized and analyzed information, and conducted feasibility studies and audience surveys.

After weeks of assessment, she was able to share metrics with board members and prospective donors. The metrics, such as the expected ticket sales resulting from increased marketing, showed them the return they could expect on their investment in the company’s growth plan.

The strategy worked. During Drew’s tenure, the programs, performances, audiences and revenue the Dance Theatre operates with an annual budget of $4.9 million – up from $175,000 in 1987.

But analyzing finances and performance no longer has to be a manual, time-consuming job for arts leaders.

Now, when Drew wants to assess the Dance Theatre’s financial and management performance, she turns to a new, free online dashboard from the National Center for Arts Research at SMU.

Building the capacity to improve

The easy-to-use NCAR Dashboard allows arts organizations to assess themselves on 24 broad measures in such areas as revenue, expenses, marketing and staffing, and see how they compare to peers throughout the U.S. that are similar in size, field of interest, and audience and community demographics.

Known as the KIPI Dashboard (“KIPI” stands for Key Intangible Performance Indicators), it launched in 2016; Drew was an early tester.

“With this free tool, arts organizations can more easily gauge how well they’re doing in the areas that are important to them, and can make more informed decisions to reach their particular goals,” says Zannie Voss, director of NCAR and professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business.

Moreover, adds Drew, the tool gives arts philanthropists information to help them make donation decisions. “Donors are able to get a better feel for how to evaluate programs and their return on time, money and resources,” she says.

For smaller organizations in particular – which represent most arts and cultural nonprofits – the KIPI Dashboard provides a highly sophisticated diagnostic and analytical capacity they otherwise likely would lack, says Drew, a founding member of the NCAR advisory board.

A grantmaker’s perspective

Dwight Walth, director of cultural facility and grant services in the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, is a proponent of the KIPI Dashboard. Walth encouraged a number of nonprofits that receive grants from his agency to sign up for one of NCAR’s monthly dashboard webinars.

According to Walth, the arts sector represents a volatile marketplace, and the business model for arts organizations can be complex. In many ways, he says, nonprofits face “different kinds of stresses and issues” than for-profit companies, including their overall dependence on both contributed income and earned income. Nonprofits often get special grants “that can go away next year, so it’s just sort of riding waves of production and exhibits that go well and don’t, special exhibits that do well and don’t,” he says.

“Clearly, what the dashboard offers is a way for the organization to tell the story of their successes and challenges beyond the raw data by looking across the sector peer group as a whole,” he says. “An organization would then have a powerful tool to show to their board of directors and to funders to put in context how they’re doing. They could see in their trend reports, in the trend data or in the final score within an index, that they are performing lower or higher than they would expect.

“And when they dip into their scores, they get trend information and details about how they can increase their score, what factors need to change to increase a score.”

Insights for board members

In June 2016, when the Dallas Black Dance Theatre launched a new strategic plan, its board wanted a clear sense of the financial baseline from which it was setting out, and how it compared to peer organizations throughout the U.S. As a relatively small organization, the board also wanted to know how it stacked up against peer groups in contributions from board members.

Among several other aspects, the DBDT learned from the new tool that its board donations covered eight percent of expenses – two percentage points higher, on average, than expenses covered by boards of larger arts groups such as symphonies.

“When measuring ourselves as a $5 million organization, compared to a $40 million to $50 million organization, it helps our board understand they’re carrying a larger proportional contribution,” Drew says. “It helps them value the level of contribution they’re making.”

The Dance Theatre now uses information from the dashboard throughout the year as it recruits prospective donors and board members who otherwise might not have wanted to get involved because of the mistaken belief they “can’t make much of a difference,” Drew says.

Gauging financial performance

The dashboard has been a goal that Voss and her team at the National Center for Arts Research have been working on since NCAR’s founding in 2012. NCAR was created to assess the health and stability of the arts sector in America by compiling and analyzing the most comprehensive set of data ever assembled on the arts industry. The dashboard is the next evolution of NCAR, providing a free, customized resource that allows arts organizations to look at their own performance relative to the field.

The dashboard draws on data from nearly 8,000 cultural nonprofits that have submitted their information to NCAR partner DataArts over the past five years. The dashboard lets an organization access its own confidential, individual scores that show how it ranks relative to its peers in nine broad indices of finance, operations and attendance. Each index consists of multiple metrics.

The dashboard gauges tangible factors that affect performance, such as an organization’s age, sector and marketing budget, as well as intangible factors such as good decision-making and artistic

Arts leaders can track their company’s performance in each index over five years, and use what they learn as a catalyst to inform and guide their staff and board in planning, decision-making and development.  A nonprofit could use the dashboard to conduct a benchmarking analysis, for example, before undertaking a capital campaign.

And by clicking an “Increase My Score” button on the dashboard, nonprofits can see what they would have needed to do to improve performance in areas such as attendance, corporate contributions or return on fundraising.

The dashboard also features articles on best practices for each of the nine indices. They range from governance and contributed income to community engagement and staffing.

And while NCAR does not provide consulting services itself, its website features a list of national consultants it has worked with over the years that dashboard users can turn to as they work to improve their performance.

Key Data Source: The Cultural Data Profile

The KIPI Dashboard represents a collaboration among a network of partners, including Philadelphia-based DataArts. Founded in 2004 as the Cultural Data Project by a Pennsylvania group of public and private grantmakers and advocates, DataArts now has collected data from 16,000 arts, cultural and science organizations throughout the U.S., ranging from ballet and opera companies to symphonies, museums and performing arts groups.

Those nonprofits – about 15 percent of the roughly 100,000 cultural nonprofits in the U.S. that file Form 990 returns with the IRS – have completed annual Cultural Data Profiles for DataArts totaling several million data points.

“DataArts was started to better understand how to help cultural nonprofits become more sustainable,” says Beth Tuttle, DataArts president and CEO. “The organizers were in the business of giving grants and investing in cultural nonprofits, and were seeking greater insight into those nonprofits’ financial and operational health.”

Also prompting creation of the effort, she says, was the overall “lack of detailed data in standardized form to help make decisions as funders, to look at trends and figure out what actually was happening with organizations they were funding.”

The millions of data points represent an unparalleled, broadly available asset for the cultural sector.

Both arts organizations and granting organizations make use of the Cultural Data Profiles. Arts organizations that submit a profile are then able to generate a variety of analytics and reports, such as balance sheets and annual reports; apply for grants; and more. Funders, many of whom require grant applicants to submit data to the profile, can get a report from DataArts for each individual applicant, and can compare applicants to peers and see grantee trends.

Completing the Cultural Data Profile is also the first step in creating an individual KIPI Dashboard. Nonprofits that complete a profile can then seamlessly access the dashboard from either the DataArts platform or NCAR website.

Tracking an audience’s likelihood of buying tickets

Large arts organizations like museums and symphonies “have become increasingly sophisticated about understanding their communities and how to do targeted marketing that understands where in their community their attendees come from and which are more loyal,” says NCAR Director Voss.

Yet the vast majority of arts organizations in the U.S. are small and lack the financial and human capacity to use data to improve their performance and drive their growth, says Voss, a former man- aging director of the PlayMakers Repertory Company at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To help equip them with that capacity, NCAR is developing a new tool, known as an “audience development heat map,” that will show arts organizations the “likelihood of purchase” for households in every census tract within 20 miles.  “If my goal is to increase purchases, I can look at census tracts and my own organization’s ticket sales, and see areas we haven’t targeted,” she says. Or if an arts organization wanted to diversify its audience by attracting younger or more culturally diverse people, the interactive map will help target areas where those audiences live.

The tool, expected to be launched in 2018, will be designed to be “flexible enough for organizations to use that have different marketing objectives,” and will help small and mid-size nonprofits with limited capacity better understand their audiences and target their marketing, says Voss, who also is a member of the DataArts board.

Rising to challenges: marketing, budgets and politics

Together, the KIPI Dashboard and future audience development map represent breakthrough tools designed to help arts organizations, particularly those that are small or mid-size, navigate an increasingly challenging and complex cultural marketplace, Voss says.

People-per-program-offering – a key metric – generally has declined over time, for example, while the number of offerings has grown. And funders sometimes press cultural groups to come up with new initiatives. As a result, arts organizations are looking for ways to market themselves and their new programs more effectively.

Cultural organizations also have seen the share of their budgets provided by government funding decline, on average, from 5.4 percent in 2011 to 4.8 percent in 2014, she says.

And with the White House and Congress considering elimination of agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, Voss says, the cultural sector could lose a key source of funding that typically helps drive support from state and local funders, both public and private. In rural areas that lack philanthropic capacity, NEA funding can be critical.

The KIPI Dashboard and the planned heat map from NCAR are tools that give cultural nonprofits otherwise hard-to-get data that make it easy to track their performance, compare themselves to peer organizations, and inform planning and decision-making by their board and staff – along with articles on best practices and success stories – to drive continual improvement, Voss says.

“We are at a moment in time in the field of arts and culture when we’re finally starting to have robust data from the organizations themselves,” she says. “These tools are intended to give them additional knowledge from their own data, useful to them on a personalized basis, to help them move the dial in the performance areas that are important to them.”

Tuttle, who serves on NCAR’s advisory board, says smart, well-organized data is critical for cultural organizations. “Data plus stories equal impact,” she says. “Data alone doesn’t tell the story. Anecdotes alone don’t make the case. But you put those two things together, and you can tell a much more compelling story to a broader set of listeners. And that is imperative in the current political context we’re in.”

Performance, education focus at Raleigh Little Theatre

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — This summer, hundreds of Wake County children age four and older each is spending a week or two at day camp, learning about topics ranging from playwriting and comedy to Shakespeare.

And when the school year begins, hundreds more will attend theater classes after school or on Saturdays, while guest artists during weeklong residencies focusing on theater and literacy at 10 to 20 elementary schools will work with students on drama, and with teachers on how to teach drama.

Providing education programs, which reach about 1,000 people, at least two-thirds of them children, is Raleigh Little Theatre.

Formed in 1936, the nonprofit works to use “theater as a tool for education and personal growth and community building,” says Charles Phaneuf, a Raleigh native who has served as its executive director since January 2012.

The group operates with an annual budget of $1.2 million, a full-time staff of 11 people, another 40 to 50 teachers and people working under contract, and 1,000 active volunteers.

The community theater produces 11 plays a year, including five for children, with a total of at least 150 performances, and attracts a total audience of about 40,000 ticket-buyers.

In addition to its summer and school-year programs for children, it offers volunteering and other programs designed to meet growing demand from adults to learn about and be involved in theater.

In June, Raleigh Little Theatre concluded a major-gifts initiative that raised over $740,000 it will use to improve accessibility and technology throughout its campus, which includes a proscenium theater and amphitheater built in the 1930s with funding from the federal Public Works Administration, a rose garden added in the 1940s, and a black-box theater built in the 1980s.

The fundraising effort received contributions from 39 individuals and eight institutions, including $275,000 from the City of Raleigh and $50,000 from First Citizens Bank. A larger fundraising effort by Raleigh Little Theatre also received $50,000 for work on its amphitheater from Triangle Community Foundation through its community fund for  Capitol Broadcasting Company and WRAL.

The nonprofit is using the funds to make its bathrooms accessible by the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act; to add glass doors that open to the balcony overlooking the Raleigh Rose Garden; to install a wireless assisted-listening system in its Sutton Theater that broadcasts directly into theater-goers’ hearing aids or cochlear implants; and to replace some of its stage lighting with self-dimming lights.

It also is in the early stages of planning for a possible capital campaign and undertaking a master plan for its campus.

Raleigh Little Theatre generates just over 60 percent of its income from ticket sales; tuition for camps and classes; and concessions and merchandise. The remainder is contributed, with the City of Raleigh accounting for just under 10 percent of its overall budget. Its annual fund raised $435,000 in the fiscal year ended June 30.

“Theater is important because it’s an opportunity to see the world through different peoples’ eyes,” says Phaneuf. “It’s especially important at times when we’re divided, and I truly believe that theater is a place that people from lots of ideological backgrounds can come together and have a shared experience.”

Arts a $2.12 billion business in North Carolina

By Todd Cohen

The nonprofit arts industry adds $2.12 billion to North Carolina’s economy, a new study says.

Throughout the state, nonprofit arts and cultural groups support the equivalent of nearly 72,000 full-time jobs, and generate $201.5 million in revenues for local governments and the state, says The Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 Study, which was led by Americans for the Arts and conducted by economists at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Local arts groups throughout the U.S., including United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, ArtsGreensboro, and United Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County,  paid for their communities to participate in the study.

Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and their audiences spent a total of $557 million in Wake County in 2015, $162.2 million in Guilford County, and $156.8 million in Forsyth County.

The nonprofit arts and cultural industry supports the equivalent of 19,873 full-time jobs in  Wake, 5,963 in Guilford, and 5,559 in Forsyth.

In Wake, it accounts for over $167 million in household income for local residents, and generates nearly $15.8 million in revenues for local and state government.

In Forsyth, it generates over $129 million in local household income, and over $14.8 million in local and state tax revenues.

And in Guilford, it generates over $56.3 million in household income and $5.3 million in local and state government revenue.

In Wake, nonprofit arts and culture groups spent over $179 million in fiscal 2015, and stimulated another $378 million in event-related spending by their audiences at restaurants, hotels, retail stories, parking garages and other local businesses.

In Guilford, the industry spent $67 million in fiscal 2015, generating nearly nearly $95.2 million more in local event-related spending by their audiences.

In Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, arts and cultural groups spent nearly $105 million in 2015, generating another $52 million in spending from their audiences.

Throughout the U.S., the study says, nonprofit arts in 2015 spurred $166.3 billion of economic activity, including $63.8 billion in spending by arts and cultural groups, and another $102.5 billion in event-related spending by their audiences.

That activity supported 4.6 million jobs and generated $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state and federal governments, compared to those governments’ collective $5 billion in arts allocations, the study says.

Nonprofit champions Southern documentaries

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Making documentary movies in and about the South can be a struggle. Compared to cultural and business capitals like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the region is short on the professional networks of investors, distributors and other key players that the documentary industry depends on, says Naomi Walker, executive director of the Southern Documentary Fund, or SDF.

Founded in 2002, the Durham-based nonprofit works to cultivate documentaries about the region and to plug regional documentary-makers into the national networks critical to their success. A key role has been to serve as a fiscal sponsor for documentaries, including 150 that have been completed and another 73 still in progress.

SDF acts as a matchmaker and consultant for documentary-makers, providing connections, feedback and mentoring designed to improve their work, help get it financed and distributed, and increase its social impact.

And since 2014, SDF itself has made four grants a year, of $2,500 to $7,000 each, as seed money for documentaries, thanks to a five-year, $100,000 grant from The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation in Durham.

The funding for that “re-granting” has raised SDF’s profile with national funders, Walker says.

SDF is seeking additional funding it would use to make more grants to more documentary-makers, match them with mentors, and generate feedback for works in progress. It also would create a “civic-media incubator,” starting in the Triangle, featuring a public event at which anyone could pitch ideas to documentary-film students. Veteran moviemakers would mentor students making short documentaries.

A first grant, however small, can mean a lot to a documentary-maker, and can be a critical catalyst for more funding, Walker says.

“Grants beget grants,” she says. “It gives them cache and leverage they need to get more funds. It puts them on the radar of bigger funding.”

A documentary can cost $100,000 to millions of dollars to make, Walker says.

“Documentary filmmakers typically have to do a lot of other work to support themselves, so it can take years,” she says. “It’s more of an avocation than a career.”

And while documentary-makers, like many artists, often do much of their creative work alone, they also want to be part of a community to share skills and ideas, and talk about problems they face in their work, she says.

To foster Southern documentary-makers and documentaries about the South, SDF aims to “create the community they need,” Walker says.

The South, for example, is short on executive producers, she says, referring to people who work to help documentary-makers secure investment and distribution deals needed to make movies and get them shown.

So, next spring, SDF initially plans to match a handful of moviemakers, one each, with a handful of prospective funders. Each funder will take the respective moviemaker to dinner once a quarter for a year. If a pair hits it off, the prospective funder would host a fundraising house party, using a guide SDF will create. SDF than would host roundtable events for the new funders to talk with veteran executive producers.

“Most documentary filmmakers have to leave the South and move to New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco to have access to industry connections and to get the work that supports their field,” Walker says. “We want makers to be able to stay here and flourish.”

Nonprofit uses dance to help kids cope

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Fourth grade can be challenging for young people, a confusing time between early-childhood and adolescence when they begin to encounter new experiences they are not always prepared to handle.

For students in families facing economic distress, fourth grade can be even more difficult.

Since 2005, Durham-based nonprofit North Carolina Arts in Action has used dance to help fourth-graders in need navigate the challenges and changes they are facing and to equip them to succeed in school and life.

Inspired by a teaching methodology developed by Jacques d’Amboise, founder of the National Dance Institute and a former principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, N.C. Arts in Action aims to “bring out the best in every child, regardless of background or experience in  dance, and regardless of talent and abilities, including special needs,” says Marlon Torres, its executive director.

Operating with an annual budget of about $356,000, the nonprofit this year serves over 1,000 students in 10 schools, including seven in Wake County and one each in Chatham, Durham and Orange counties.

That’s 200 more students than it served last year and 600 more than five years ago, when it served students in four schools in two counties.

That growth reflects a five-year effort to strengthen its staff and board, improve its fundraising, and better integrate dance into the classroom curriculum for more fourth-grade students in more low-income public schools.

Funded with a total of $60,000 in grants over five years from The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation Durham to build its organizational “capacity,” N.C. Arts in Action has expanded and trained its board of directors to play a more active role in planning and fundraising.

It has hired an artistic director and part-time office assistant, added more teaching artists and teaching assistants, and provided training on its teaching methodology to them and to classroom teachers in the schools it serves.

It has more than doubled its annual support from foundations to $220,000, and from individuals to $50,000.

And it has developed a new partnership with the Wake County Public  School System, which now provides 40 percent of the the funding N.C. Arts in Action needs to serve seven Wake schools.

Once a week for 18 to 25 weeks in each of the 10 participating schools, the entire fourth grade devotes 50 minutes to 60 minutes to dance instruction that also is designed to reinforce lessons the students are learning in academic subjects, such as storytelling, social studies and science.

Teaching the classes are a lead teacher and choreographer, an assistant teacher, and a musician, with live music included in every class.

The classes culminate in two large-scale productions for the entire school and the community.

On a Wednesday in late March, Torres led 60 fourth-graders through a rehearsal for a performance, including a piece called “Electromagnetism,” that underscores this year’s academic theme of technology.

Fourth-graders, he says, are at an age when they are “ready physically for the rigorous demand of the program, which uses dance as a tool for teaching important life skills, and when students begin to take ownership of their own learning.”