copious notes

Rich Copley: LexArts ties fundraising plans to growing calendar of events

Herald-Leader Culture Columnist,Rich CopleyFebruary 24, 2013 

Earlier this month, LexArts announced the goal for its annual Fund for the Arts campaign. That $1.2 million goal, a 14 percent increase over last year, was the news of the morning, but the real story seemed to be in ambitions for the 2016 effort: $2 million.

"That is absolutely tied to increased productivity in the arts community," LexArts president and CEO Jim Clark, below, says. "People are going to give more money if more things are happening, and if there are more groups out doing things in the community, that makes it very evident their investment is paying off.

"So this is all predicated on the idea that we're going to keep seeing new groups coming online like Balagula (Theatre), Institute 193, the Fashion Collaborative, and more established groups like the Living Arts and Science Center with its new facilities and what the Philharmonic is doing with its programming, bringing it out of the Singletary Center into different venues. It goes hand in hand with people seeing a difference."

Clark, who has been the arts umbrella group's chief for a little more than 10 years, says a difference in area arts offerings is evident in Lexington culture as much as in its specific arts offerings.

He cites an "authentic lifestyle" movement in Lexington as seen by the growth of a brewery scene, the farm-to-table movement focusing on local produce and restaurants that plan their menus with that spirit.

"We're seeing a real creative culture developing here that embraces fine art as well as the craft as well as farming," Clark says. "There's this appreciation for 'the hand of the artist,' and that to me is the reason North Limestone is taking off and Jefferson (Street) is taking off. It's this entrepreneurial activity married to the creative interest."

To Clark, an organic interest in a "creative lifestyle" has grown in Lexington, and with that comes an interest in supporting the arts, particularly arts that align with that mind-set.

To that end, he points to organizations such as Balagula Theatre, which developed at Natasha's Bistro & Bar and has become a home for avant garde theater in Lexington, or Institute 193, which has quickly established a national profile while operating out of a very small space on North Limestone. To Clark, efforts like those and construction initiatives at the Living Arts and Science Center and innovative programming with the Philharmonic, long regarded as Lexington's flagship arts institution, inspire donors and help overcome some of Lexington's perceived fundraising deficiencies.

For a long time, the annual fund campaign and many groups relied on large annual donations from philanthropist Lucille Caudill Little, who died in 2002. Her foundation has continued to make sizable contributions to groups including Lexington Children's Theatre, but gone is the chance of Little seeing something worthwhile and deciding to write a big check.

"People keep saying we need a new Mrs. Little," Clark says. "My response is we need several Mrs. Littles, and they don't have to be multimillionaires. You can make a difference just being a consistent donor without giving the extraordinary amounts she and her foundation have given away.

"Just as you cultivate an appreciation for the arts, you cultivate philanthropic tendencies. Once you introduce people to how they can make a difference with their money, that becomes infectious. And that's why it has to be tied to productivity."

He says people contribute to help growth.

"We see a pattern of investing in the future of groups," Clark says.

Along with upping the ante, Clark says, LexArts is adjusting how it distributes funds to acknowledge new realities.

He says project grant proposals will be accepted year-round as opposed to annually. "A lot of the smaller groups and emerging groups aren't prepared to submit proposals 18 months in advance of projects," he says. "So if they could submit to quarterly reviews, we certainly expect them to know what they are doing four or five months down the road."

He also says LexArts is looking at how to partner with social media sites such as Power2Give.org to create and endorse other funding opportunities.

"Obviously social media will never replace the kind of oversight and engagement with groups in terms of major funding," Clark says. "Particularly with corporations, they rely on us to know that their money is going to be spent wisely."

You'll probably never grow a $2 million Fund for the Arts campaign out of social media. But that is where LexArts is heading.

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: copiousnotes.bloginky.com.

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