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A community endowment that combines public and private dollars could help to keep Roanoke’s arts and culture vibrant.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Roanoke City Council is considering creating an endowment that would combine tax dollars with private donations to nourish the city’s starving arts organizations. With the right framework and community support, there finally might be a strong, reliable funding stream to sustain viable organizations.
Roanoke now has a problem in that its bounty of organizations is plentiful, but its means of funding them is sparse. Consider that not only does the city have a fine arts museum, it has science, history, African-American history and transportation museums as well. And then there is the zoo, opera, symphony, ballet, several theaters and performance halls, and a rich tapestry of artists, galleries, musicians, performers. The list is always growing.
Yet outside of Nick and Jenny Taubman’s generous support of both the Taubman Museum of Art and $2.5 million in grants to other organizations the last two years, the city lacks a wealth of corporate and private foundations to sustain the arts.
Even the small-time donor has become fatigued by the many pleas. Count Roanoke City Council among the weary, not in its desire to support the arts — to that members remain committed — but to the endless, fragmented requests for help.
Even during the recession, council remained a generous supporter of the arts, recognizing that the city’s economic well-being is tied to its culture. About $1 million to $3 million of the city’s budget each year supports arts and culture. Tax dollars purchase public art, sponsor events, encourage enactment of a robust arts and culture plan, but mostly have been used to provide gap funding for capital projects.
Council members question whether it is wise to keep building things when organizations struggle to survive. Is there a better way to help sustain viable organizations?
Members of the city’s art and culture funding committee — with members representing the public, the arts and philanthropists — are seeking an answer. Councilman Dave Trinkle reported to council on Monday that establishing an endowment combining public and private dollars would provide a permanent source of reliable funding to aid qualified organizations.
To generate about $500,000 a year, the initial endowment would need about $10 million. The committee will now look at ways to raise that amount quickly without diverting funds vital for continued support of organizations until the endowment is established.
Unlike the current fragmented system, an endowment opens unlimited ways to raise private dollars and is expected to be attractive as a conduit for corporations and individuals who are now besieged by numerous requests. In other words, the endowment can do for the arts what the United Way has done for community organizations.
Organizers can seek innovative ways to bundle small sums from patrons who enjoy an attraction and want to offer a few dollars of support. Raising funds could be as close as a phone app.
While city council initiated the exploration of an endowment, it is essential the funding committee explore a variety of ways to increase private funding, making it easy and desirable for all to support the culture that makes living in the Roanoke Valley so enjoyable.
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