Fundraising for arts not always a pretty picture

Viola from Nicha Poolpol. Nonprofits face challenges generating donations during tough economic times, but marketing the importance of the arts is ongoing struggle.Nicha Poolpol/Flickr Creative Commons
Viola from Nicha Poolpol. Nonprofits face challenges generating donations during tough economic times, but marketing the importance of the arts is ongoing struggle.

By Andrea Baumgartner/For — Champaign and Urbana nonprofits in arts education took a hard hit to funding in 2007 as the great recession began.

For example, the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation saw its revenue drop from about $310,000 to $295,000 from 2007 to 2008.

Similarly, the amount of total individual donations to the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation failed to increase as projected, remaining steady at $45,000.

Since then, the foundation has been rebounding, now topping off their revenue from events, special programs and individual donations at around $400,000. But, the foundation’s executive director Gail Rost says that they are still struggling for donations.

“Unless you have your own private pot of money, you’re reliant on what we call soft income, and you have to have a message that resonates with that donor,” Rost said. “If the message isn’t the arts, you’re not going to get the gift.”

Rost said that nonprofits not only have problems receiving donations during recessions, but in general they struggle to market the importance of the arts. She said part of the reason is it seems ambiguous to what the money is going towards. In contrast, donations to organizations like the Humane Society, where money is used for food or kitty litter.

Currently, there are 57 registered nonprofits in Champaign-Urbana according to, a nonprofit that collects financial data as well as other information on nonprofits nationwide.

Of these 57, only eight are arts related. Forty-three of these are located in Champaign, and 14 in Urbana. As of May 24th 2012, the United way of Champaign County reported that 37 of these nonprofits totaled over $2.8 million in their community investment, with over $1 million in donor directed funding.

Nationwide, the arts are a $135 billion industry, generating 4.1 million full-time jobs and $22.3 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments each year, according to Americans for the Arts. This group collects data on the impact of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations on the economy and released these figures.



Illinois is no stranger to such benefits, as the arts pump back $716,159,485 into our state economy, or $78.46 per dollar invested. Nevertheless, the proposed budget for funding the arts in Illinois has been reduced to $8.3 million—less than half of the invested $19.8 million in 2007, and $.30 below the national average per person.

It is no shock that reductions in funding over the past five years have come as a result of the 2007 recession. Although nonprofits in big cities like Chicago contribute at least $2.2 billion annually to the local economy, it is the nonprofits in small urban cities like Champaign-Urbana that are still feeling the worst of the extended national economic downturn.

Champaign-Urbana’s Arts Nonprofits Funding:

Between 2007 and 2008, total revenues at the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation fluctuated between $310,116 to $295,592. Despite this, grant money given increased from about $25,000 to $45,000.

No arts education programs received funding in 2007, while only one program did in 2008, accounting for just 5 percent of foundation funds.

In Urbana’s school district, unit 116, the arts budget is not logged, but elementary arts coordinator Betty Allen said that the district is very supportive. Unit 116 is part of the 3 to 4 percent of schools in the country that provide a dance and theater curriculum, in addition to the standard art and music.

Art teachers like the now-retired Shauna Carey also recognize the value of arts education, but also know how difficult it is to keep it going.

“I worked really hard to get a budget of $3 per child,” said Carey. “So that $3 pays for all of the supplies for a whole year. So if I have 300 students, I get $900. It’s hard to do exotic kinds of things. That’s why teachers write a lot of grants.”

These nonprofits depend on the local community for its revenue. For example, if the community doesn’t donate, there isn’t anything these nonprofits can do to make up for budgets being cut in schools.

“If you don’t have a community that’s interested or strong supporters of K-12 arts,” said Rost, “it’s not going to be there. So for the community to rely on nonprofits to pick up on the slack because schools are cutting budgets—that isn’t a very good plan, because nonprofits are shaky by nature. They never know where the money is coming from.”


Arts in the Schools

There are currently about 45 certified fine arts teachers in the Champaign school district, working with a budget of $100,000 and 41 certified fine arts teachers in the Urbana school district. In the past few years, the Unit 4 District has had to make cuts, and when 4th grade strings and band came into the picture, the community made it clear where they stood.

“The board room was packed,” said superintendent Judy Wiegand. “This community, at least the Champaign community, places a high value on the arts, and as a district, we respect that. We’re here to serve our community.”

Carey recognizes that there is no shortage of appreciation for the arts in the Champaign-Urbana community; however, she acknowledged that with state and national standards for core curriculum classes getting tougher, along with stricter admissions into college, the arts are faced with an even greater challenge of competing for a spot.

“It’s got to be about literacy and problem solving and cooperative learning skills,” said Carey. “You can’t separate the arts out, it’s got to be how the arts connect to other things. And one problem I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to overcome is that nobody knows how to test it.”

A recent UCLA study reported that 10th and 12th graders involved in the arts had a clear advantage over those less involved in the arts at all income levels, scoring 16 to 18 percentage points better than students not involved in arts.

In addition to this, there has also been strong correlation between the positive impact that arts education has on the involvement level of students in the classroom, as well as overall enrollment in high schools.

In 2009, 8.1 percent of high school students were dropouts, with rates being higher in minority races, according to the United States Department of Education. This correlated with the percentage of students who received arts education as a child with 57.9 percent or Caucasians receiving arts education, 28.1 percent of Hispanics, and 26.2 percent of African-Americans.

The impact of Arts-Education Programs:

Krannert Art Museum’s Director of Education Anne Sautman has seen the direct impact that arts education has had on children – particularly those who might end up as dropouts – through the recently implemented KAM-WAM initiative. The program brings local 5th grade students to the museum for a week of learning that combines visual art, music, and dance with math, science, literature and history.

“The teachers were saying that the students were interacting differently,” said Sautman. “They were more supportive of each other, they were asking about when they were going to start learning, because it was so engaging. They didn’t realize that they were actually learning while they were here.”

Not only were the children engaging in the curriculum more actively and voluntarily, but there were also significant changes in the behavior of the children, particularly those who have previously had a history of negative classroom conduct.

“While there, some of these kids who don’t usually participate in class were totally engaged and were treating the teachers with respect. These behaviors then continued back at school,” said Sautman.

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