Arts Nonprofits Brainstorm On Ways To Stay Afloat

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By: Laura M. Reckford
Published: 03/23/12

In a difficult economy, how does an arts nonprofit stay viable? By “monetizing.”

That was one idea presented Tuesday morning at the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod’s Fifth Annual Creative Collaborative Conference during the panel discussion entitled “Challenges, Opportunities and Collaboration in nonprofit Arts Organizations.”

The conference took place Tuesday at the Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis.

Ellen Spear, executive director of Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, said her organization is planning to create a business out of its new Hidden Hollows exhibit, which is an outdoor children’s play area. The museum has trademarked the name, “Hidden Hollows,” and will be creating products for children and curriculum that has to do with outdoor discovery.

The idea is to eventually create a separate business that may be a for-profit entity, she said. In addition, Heritage has decided that its store should sell only locally-made products, because many visitors are looking to purchase a souvenir that is made on Cape Cod.

Suzy Bergmann, executive director of the Falmouth Art Center, said her organization’s new center on Gifford Street in Falmouth has resulted in so many new members, “we have a brand-new building we’re outgrowing.”

Barbara Cotton, executive director at the Cape Cod Children’s Museum in Mashpee, said her organization is trying to stay focused on its core mission and core audience: children under 8 on weekends and children under 6 on weekdays.

With funding challenges, the panelists, including Stephanie Weaver, managing director of the Cape Cod Conservatory of Music and Arts, said it is important to reexamine business models. She emphasized collaborations between art organizations, like the series of student concerts her organization has organized with the Cotuit Center for the Arts, the Cultural Center of Cape Cod and Wellfleet Preservation Hall.

Mark Hough, executive director of Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, said his organization, which has undergone some leadership changes this year, is looking to “be all things to all people” by attracting people who may not have previously come to the center. Towards that end, this year the theater put together a special surfing exhibit to attract the many surfers who visit the beaches of Wellfleet but who may not have taken advantage of the town’s premier cultural attraction.

The Creative Collaborative Conference also had a panel of local legislators, who spoke, among other issues, on the subject of adding arts to the push for additional science and technology education initiatives.

State Senator Daniel A. Wolf said, “Cutting the arts [from school/state budgets] is not a cut to a discretionary fund. It cuts what it means to be a human being.”

On the subject of the casino competing with local arts venues for audience and talent, State Senate President Therese Murray, said, “There were built-in protections [in the legislation] for the arts. People going to the casinos are not the same people as those going to [small arts venues].”

State Representative David Vieira said he spoke with Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe leader Cedric Cromwell on the issue.
“The casino could be a cultural draw. [Mr. Cromwell] said he would look for ways to partner with local arts venues. I really want to hold Mr. Cromwell to that commitment.”

Senator Wolf said, “We need to start asking how arts and culture can benefit from an investment in the casino.” He suggested perhaps a museum of Wampanoag history could be developed.

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