Falling Through the Cracks?

When the Joyce Foundation rolled out its study of attendance at the city’s biggest cultural institutions a couple weeks ago (as reported in this space last week), Patricia Morehead of the new-music group CUBE rose from the crowd to make an impassioned statement on another subject–the plight of the city’s smallest arts organizations. According to Morehead, groups like CUBE, with an annual budget of less than $50,000, are falling off the map for major funders. These days “you have to be a $150,000 organization even to be considered small,” she says. “Less than that and you’re invisible.”

It’s almost a death knell for small groups, the oboist and composer maintains. “We used to get Sara Lee Foundation funding. It was $5,000 a year and meant a lot to us. Then Sara Lee decided to go to [minimum budgets of] $150,000 a year for eligibility, and we could no longer apply. At Chicago Community Trust, they categorize an organization with a budget of at least $250,000 as small. With the major foundations raising the bar, a lot of small groups have gone out of business in the last couple years.”

Morehead is right about Sara Lee. A spokesman says the foundation made a decision four years ago to fund only organizations with budgets of $150,000 or more because the state of Illinois requires audits for groups of that size. Sara Lee “just matched up with some of the state’s thresholds,” he says. But Kassie Davis of the Chicago Community Trust says they do fund organizations with budgets of less than $250,000, and launched a new program last fall that provides operating and other support for 40 small and very small groups. Peter Handler, program officer at the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, says his group found a “big gap” in funding for small theater and dance companies as far back as the mid-1990s, and began working with them then. Now Driehaus administers several small-group programs funded by the MacArthur Foundation, including one that will distribute $500,000 this year to arts and culture organizations with budgets of that amount or less.

CUBE, now in its 18th season, has outlasted what Morehead says is the usual seven-to-ten-year life span of a chamber group. It’s an eight-member ensemble of composers and musicians that performs a festival of a half-dozen concerts every spring. She and flutist Janice Misurell-Mitchell are coartistic directors; the group also includes Morehead’s husband, conductor and keyboardist (and Lyric Opera music-staff head) Philip Morehead. “It would make a huge difference if we had another $20,000 or $25,000 a year in order to hire someone half-time,” she says. CUBE does have a grant consultant, “but my husband and I do everything [else], and we have to earn a living on top of that. I don’t think we’ll ever be a $150,000 organization, and I’m not sure one should be forced into that position. But when you function without staff–without money for press releases or an office”–never mind recordings–“it’s hard. I’d love to see someone continue the work Philip and I have done when we drop dead from exhaustion, but I don’t see it happening.”

CUBE contributed three quirky solos, including one by Morehead, to a New Music Chicago concert at the Green Mill last Sunday, and has three performances coming up in the next couple weeks–April 5 and 7 at Columbia College, and an April 10 live broadcast on WFMT. On May 21 they’ll premiere works by Ricky Ian Gordon and Robert Lombardo and perform a Pulitzer-winning cycle by Dominick Argento at the Merit School of Music.

Sick of Daring to Lead

“What? This fucking column’s due and only half-written again? Get your useless ass in gear, you despicable slug, before I kill you.” That’s the voice of my imaginary executive coach, providing the counsel and support that will have me performing at the top of my game. After I dropped in at a packed meeting of nonprofit executives and their boards last week at Chase Tower (Chagall Tower, in my book; screw the banking mergers), I realized that executive coaching, the performance enhancer du jour, has muscled its way from the corporate boardroom into the scruffy nonprofit office. During this Donors Forum-sponsored presentation of yet another big study–this one taking the temperature of executive directors at nearly 2,000 nonprofit organizations–there was a call for hands of those who’d made use of a professional executive coach. The forest of arms that shot into the air was a sight to warm the hearts of shrinks and pseudoshrinks everywhere, a land of opportunity opening up before them.

Lord knows these poor souls need the help. According to the study, conducted by CompassPoint, a consulting group that also provides executive coaching services, and titled “Daring to Lead” (though “Daring to Leave” would be more accurate), three-quarters of the execs are planning to dump their jobs within the next five years. That may be for the best, since the study also found that one-third of them are likely to be fired. Their biggest source of frustration is the board of directors, which never seems to get the message about sticking to fund-raising and letting the staff run the organization, and a significant number said they’d rather be doling out donations or advice (at foundations or consulting firms) than scrounging for them. The majority of nonprofit executives are women, 82 percent are white, and most of them say they know they’re not getting paid what they’re worth.

In a follow-up panel, Alene Valkanas of the Illinois Arts Alliance dropped a couple of alarming statistics from previous research. Eighty percent of nonprofit executives polled five years ago said if they had it to do over, they wouldn’t take their jobs–a figure she thinks may still hold–and, as of last year, only 10 percent of Illinois arts organizations contribute to their employees’ retirement funds. As for executive coaching, Valkanas says IAA is working on two methods that will depend more on peers than paid coaches. It’s already run a pilot program of three “highly structured” peer coaching circles and will do six more this year, including two in Chicago. The circles consist of five or six people meeting once a month for nine months under the guidance of a facilitator. Each participant has 15 minutes to describe a situation they need help with; the others respond with constructive questions. IAA is also creating from scratch a one-on-one mentoring program for arts administrators. A pilot run with 20 pairs will get under way in Chicago this year, with funding provided by the Sara Lee Foundation.

No Less Confusing

A recent e-mail cheerily announced the arrival of the Arts Alliance (thearts alliance.org). That was surprising, since Valkanas’s group has been around for 24 years. Turns out the new arrival is a six-year-old multiarts community group known till last December as Aurorarts Alliance. The old name never quite worked, explained executive director Dawn Marie Galtieri: “People kept assuming we were in Aurora, but we’ve always been in Logan Square.” This name, on the other hand, “fits our mission perfectly” and is “completely legal.” She says the organizations don’t overlap, and she doesn’t expect any confusion. Valkanas says IAA’s lawyer is checking it out.


WHEN: Wed 4/5, 12:30 PM, Fri 4/7, 7:30 PM

WHERE: Columbia College Concert Hall, 1014 S. Michigan

PRICE: 4/5 concert is free, 4/7 concert is $20 general admission, $10 for students and seniors

INFO: 312-554-1133, cubeensemble.com

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yvette Marie Dostatni.