Enquirer Herald

York County arts groups seeing light at end of recession

Local nonprofit arts organizations are beginning to see some recovery from the recession in the form of successful campaign goals and increased memberships.

At a recent Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. meeting, Debra Heintz, executive director of the Arts Council of York County, said programs presented or partially funded by the council saw more than 100,000 visitors in the 2010 fiscal year - visitors from 156 cities, 32 states and four countries.

This number includes all activities at the Gettys Center, the Center for the Arts and the Community Performance Center, all located in downtown Rock Hill.

"Except for years when the economy is very sluggish, on average, visitors tallies do tend to go up each year," she said.

Arts leaders see this as a promising sign, especially after fiscal years 2008 and 2009, which Heintz called "challenging years" for all nonprofits, "especially arts organizations."

GuideStar, an organization that collects information on nonprofits across the nation, completed an economic survey of public charity and private foundations in 2010. According to survey findings, more than 60 percent of the participants reported decreased contributions as a direct result of the recession.

An additional 17 percent reduced program services, and 11 percent laid off employees.

The Arts Council of York County was no stranger to these effects.

Because of the recession and the expense of opening the Community Performance Center, the Major Grants program, a competitive grant program allocating about $20,000 among three county arts organizations, was suspended.

The council alleviated the effect by offering free advertising space in playbills, conducting free staff training workshops on nontraditional marketing methods and making other grants and facility uses available.

State funding to the council was significantly reduced, Heintz said, resulting in less funding for arts education and the small grants program. Salaries were held level for two years, but staff furloughs and layoffs were prevented.

It also had an impact on fundraising campaign goals for the council.

For the 2009 fiscal year, the council raised $97,500, a steep drop from the $130,000-plus figures it was accustomed to raising.

But Heintz said with the success of the 2010 campaign and the announcement of the 2011 campaign, the council could be heading back to pre-recession figures.

"We're still not back to the levels before the economic downturn, but the figures are trending up," she said. "Based on these indicators, we feel more comfortable that economic recovery is in sight."

In 2010, they raised $112,470, a 15.41 percent increase from 2009.

For 2011, they're aiming for $130,000.

"We definitely think it's doable," Heintz said. "We have met that goal in prior years. As the economy recovers and people become more comfortable with where this country is headed, we think support will increase."

The council hasn't seen a decrease from three of its largest fundraisers - the Wine & Scotch Tasting, the annual Arts Gala and the annual Blues & Jazz Festival - which generate about $40,000 in income.

The Main Street Children's Museum in downtown Rock Hill opened in time for the 2010 ChristmasVille event and has seen a $3,000 surplus in its first six months. Monthly attendance at the museum ranged from 1,360 to 1,550 from January to June.

The Culture and Heritage Museums have seen a boost in museum memberships, something they're "positive and excited about," said Ashley Barron, museum spokesperson.

The Culture and Heritage Museums include the children's museum, the Museum of York County, the McCelvey Center in York and Historic Brattonsville.

Membership coordinator Jane Wilson showed staff that in the 2010 fiscal year, more than $40,000 was raised from membership sales - $5,000 more than the annual goal. In addition, more than 336 new memberships were sold, at least 180 more than in the previous fiscal year.

Current membership stands at 1,253 - the most since 1,290 members in 2008.

"Memberships are approaching the all-time high, which was in 2008," Barron said. "With our projections, we expect to surpass that all-time high in the next two months."

Economic impact

In 1996, the Arts Council of York County partnered with the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. with the goal of "developing cultural vitality downtown."

The Center for the Arts - with its classroom, gallery and studio space - opened in February 1996. The Community Performance Center opened in September 2009.

A survey of 12 local nonprofit arts groups conducted by the Arts Council of York County in partnership with Americans for the Arts determined that the arts had a $7 million economic impact in the county in 2008. At least 21.6 percent of that came from nonresidents.

This does not include the Community Performance Center, and that $7 million figure has probably increased since then, Heintz said.

"We have a strong interest in the arts throughout York County," she said. "One of our goals is to make York County an arts destination. As awareness of the arts builds and private and corporate donors get involved to make sure we have quality arts offerings, those figures will only increase."

Downtown East

Looking ahead, the council could expand with its participation in Downtown East, a project that would include green space with a fountain in the area of Main, Saluda and Black streets and Elizabeth Lane. Plans call for demolishing older buildings in the area, building retail and office space, condominiums and a full-service hotel.

There also is discussion of building a new Performing Arts Center with larger seating capacity, Heintz said.

"The Arts Council is currently building audience and capacity to meet the challenge," she said. "There are more possibilities as plans move forward. At the appropriate time, the Arts Council will conduct a capital campaign to cover the cost of a new building."

The Rock Hill City Council will meet next week to continue discussions about Downtown East.

Upcoming events

The Jill Dineen Band

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Community Performance Center, 249 E. Main St.

The Tempest

When: 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Johnson Theater, Winthrop University

The Stranger, a Billy Joel tribute band

When: 9 p.m. Aug. 12

Where: The Sylvia Theater, 27 N. Congress St., York