The arts are often the foundation of any thriving community, but this city’s Arts Foundation is not exactly thriving.
The Newport Beach Arts Foundation is the nonprofit fundraising entity that supports the city Arts Commission, but that support may be in danger of disappearing.
The Foundation has a big job and not enough people to do it. At a time when other foundations seek money, the Arts Foundation is on a quest for people that want to work and support the arts. They need a fresh crop of passionate art enthusiasts, people who not only want to raise money for the exhibits that have helped put Newport Beach on an art patron’s must-see list, but also do the hard setup work that events require.
“Membership has dropped off. Many of the original members have either moved on or passed away,” said Carmen Smith, the Foundation’s president. She is stepping down in June after two years in the position.
After organizing last October’s Art in the Park event, which drew hundreds of visitors, Smith became ill. The Foundation needed new leadership, she realized, but also more working members. The Foundation has 25 members on their roster, said Smith, but only a handful are truly active.
“It’s hard on us,” Smith said, also noting that their treasurer would like to step down.
At an Arts Commission study session on March 9, she and Arts Foundation Vice President Virginia Hayter presented their case. They detailed recent events and the Foundation’s decision to raise their visibility in the city by purchasing Sphere 112 by artist Ivan McLean, which will be dedicated on Tuesday, April 11 at 9 a.m. in the north end of the Civic Center Park. The sculpture – voted “most popular” by those who attended the opening ceremony of the Civic Center Sculpture Exhibit in September 2014 – was purchased for $15,000 from funds raised at the annual Art in the Park event and from private donations. The Arts Foundation is donating Sphere 112 to the city, with the blessings of the Newport Beach Arts Commission.
When the topic of organizing Art in the Park came up at the study session, Smith asked if the commission had any ideas to help them with a membership drive.
“We need young people who are interested in the arts. Some of us just aren’t physically up to it,” she said.
Arts Commissioner Judy Chang added, “We need a large push.”
She suggested listing membership opportunities with each publication that the Arts Commission puts out, such as emails promoting future events and press releases.
Chairwoman Lynn Selich agreed that the Foundation is an important part of the community, but that such a drive for new members is not the Commission’s duty.
“Foundation leadership is where this should emanate from,” Selich remarked.
“We are your 501(c)(3),” Hayter said in response. “We support you. And we need your help.”
The Arts Foundation raises funds to support the city Arts Commission, whose role is to advise the City Council on artistic and aesthetic matters, present a summer concert series and manage the rotting art in the Civic Center Park. As a government committee, the Commission is not allowed to accept or raise money, but when dollars do come their way, it goes to the Foundation.
“We’re just citizens of Newport Beach,” Smith said after the meeting. “We come from all over the city, and some of us don’t even live here anymore. They (the Arts Commission) are the ones with the connections.”
In the past, Smith said, members of the Arts Commission became members of the Foundation and regularly attended meetings each month. Very few of them do now. After their presentation to the Commission, Smith said that not a single arts commissioner attended the Foundation’s March 14 meeting.
The Arts Foundation has made numerous efforts to boost membership, Smith said. They have a presence at all of the city’s popular events, including the Art Exhibition each June and all of the summer concerts. They’ve also visited the Women in Newport Networking events.
Their efforts haven’t drawn many new members, and some that do join are happy to write a check but have no desire to work events, said Smith, adding that some even write checks larger than the requested $50 membership fee and then say, “don’t ask me to do anything.”
As a public foundation, anyone can join and anyone can donate, even if they are not residents of Newport Beach. There are no qualifications to become a member.
“We are not experts,” stated Smith.
Despite tension during the meeting, Smith says there is good relationship between the Commission and the Foundation.
“They didn’t know we had a membership problem,” she pointed out. “So now, at least they know.”
“While supportive and appreciative of the Foundation’s efforts, city commissions do not engage in fundraising or volunteer management,” Selich said. “The Arts Commission and Arts Foundation are two completely different entities – while we are connected, our functions are quite different.”
While the Arts Commission is not permitted to raise or collect funds, they did so in conjunction with last September’s performance of the Pacific Symphony at the Civic Center. When sharing the information during the City Council’s March 28 study session, Arts Commission Vice Chair Michael Kerr said they had raised $23,000 “through frankly heroic efforts of the commission.” That money went directly to the Arts Foundation.
Selich and Kerr were at the City Council study session to obtain council’s direction on the Arts Commission budget. When the issue of fundraising came up, Kerr told them that he had a plan for the foundation to “begin functioning effectively.”
He suggested that the foundation create two different teams, one an “Art in Action” group that provides volunteers and workers for events, and one comprised of trustees, responsible for the dollars donated. A means for acquiring these members was not discussed.
On the budget, he noted the addition of an administrative staff person for the Foundation (and for the Arts Commission, he added). At $75,000, the new position’s responsibilities would “include a lot of development activity (fundraising). In addition, he/she will also do recruiting, reporting, organizing, and possibly some programming,” said Kerr in an email, also noting that these were just ideas and have yet to be set in stone by the Arts Commission.
“The position will be funded as part of the overall Arts Commission budget for the first year. In subsequent years, the position is expected to be self-funded, in addition to raising funds for the private part of public/private partnerships,” Kerr added.
City Council did not act on the budget during the March 28 meeting. Councilman Jeff Herdman said, “I would have liked to have seen a target number from the Foundation,” referring to the amount of money they plan to raise next year. In 2016, the Arts Foundation raised approximately $8,500 through the Art in the Park event.
The Art Commission’s budget was continued for further discussion at a future city council meeting date.
In the meantime, Smith said that the Arts Foundation will hire an outside consultant who will oversee and organize the Art in the Park event on October 14, but it is solely for that event.
With the end of her term as president looming, Smith just wants to get new members in the door.
“Who will put the shoulder to the wheel to get this work done? Who will raise the money to pay for all of these programs?” she wonders.
The Arts Foundation will be accepting membership applications at Oasis Senior Center during the volunteer fair on May 12.
For more information, visit newportbeachartsfoundation.org.