LexArts got an unpleasant surprise at the end of its annual Fund for the Arts campaign.
Among the $27 million in cuts in newly-elected Mayor Jim Gray's proposed budget earlier this month was a 22 percent reduction in the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government's contribution to the campaign, down to $350,000 from $450,000.
Just when the fund drive was supposed to wrap up, it has gone into overtime to make up the $100,000 loss and reach its $1.1 million goal.
"The arts community here has been very fortunate in that in the past few years, we have not sustained any significant cuts from the Urban County Government," LexArts president and CEO Jim Clark said. "But when Mayor Gray started talking about a $25 million shortfall, compounded by federal cuts that were going to impact state and local government, it was clear that we were not immune from the belt tightening that was going to have to take place."
It might have seemed a little surprising coming from Gray, a well-known art collector and arts supporter.
"All the decisions in this budget were hard," Gray said. "LexArts does have a unique opportunity in that it does have the fund-raising capability, and they've always done well in the challenge model. In conversations between Jim's group and folks in the administration, they said they were willing to take on a challenge."
That is why Gray's budget includes a $50,000 challenge grant that will match donations by new campaign contributors or previous contributors who increase their donations.
LexArts has taken on challenge grants before, including the last time a new mayor came into office. In 2007, then-Mayor Jim Newberry made a part of the government's contribution a challenge grant aimed at gathering new supporters for LexArts. Clark said that it achieved its goal.
The main problem with the current situation is timing.
"We are concerned because it is late in our campaign and nearing the end of our fiscal year," Clark says. "But we are going to have a full court press to make that match."
That full court press will include regular fund-raising activities such as workplace giving programs and a social media campaign plus a citywide event, Wear Your Art Clothes Day, on Thursday.
That day, LexArts is encouraging artists from all walks of life to put on the clothes they use while making art, be it a paint-splattered shirt for a visual artist, formal concert wear for a classical musician or other garb to demonstrate the impact of cuts to arts funding. The day will conclude with a rally at 5:30 p.m. at the Downtown Arts Center followed by a gathering at Natasha's Bistro and Bar.
Clark says that although the mayor has made his budget proposal, there is still work to be done before the Urban County Council votes on it. The council has about two months to make changes to the proposed budget. A final document probably will be approved in June and take effect July 1.
"I will be working with our member groups to make sure the council knows how important this is and that we hope they would support the challenge grant," Clark says. "I think it is a supportive council and they do know all the things that the arts groups are doing in Fayette County and beyond Fayette County.
"We can't take that for granted, and we've got to make sure that the budget is passed."
Even if LexArts is able to avert a major shortfall this time around, Clark is wary of future budgets, citing the potential trickle-down effect of federal and state funding cuts in the arts and other areas.
He says, "We're being squeezed from the federal, state and local, which is why we have to do our best to maintain some level of consistent funding and predictable funding."