Gulf Coast Arts Appreciation

Guest Correspondence


View one of Frank Atura’s signature photos for the Sarasota Ballet and what do you see? Beauty, I expect. But in most any of those stunning images, I see three more things: leverage, partnership and impact.

There’s leverage in the sleek lines of one dancer lifting another skyward with (deceptive) ease. There’s intimate partnership, true collaboration, in their coordinated movements and earned trust. And there’s visual impact in the dancers’ poised power, whether they’re defying gravity or transforming several figures into a single, splendid form.

Those images—or, better yet, witnessing the real thing—help breathe life into the terms I used, which you might otherwise dismiss as nonprofit jargon. But whether it’s the ballet, or the orchestra, or the art museum, each of these institutions is also a nonprofit business and it takes the more prosaic realities of running one to ensure their art continues to shine.

Last week, Gulf Coast awarded “Arts Appreciation” grants to nine local organizations that our Board considers cornerstones of our cultural community. We did the same for eight last year, adding Venice Symphony to their company this time around. The big difference between these and grants of the past: streamlining the application process (there was none) and putting minimal conditions on how the groups could spend their money.

Our Arts Appreciation grants, $410,000 in all, recognize the multifaceted impact of the arts, and these arts leaders, in our community. There’s the quality of their artistic output, which has earned Sarasota County an international reputation for excellence. But there’s also a real economic impact.

In 2013, consumer spending on arts and culture in our Gulf Coast region averaged $350 per resident, well above the $290 for the state. In Sarasota County alone, it soared over $400. That’s impact. And with attendance trending upward at the region’s top cultural attractions, according to data on our Gulf Coast Community Indicators website, it’s positioned to grow in coming seasons.

The grants also provide valuable leverage to these groups. For some, the cash infusion becomes lead support for a larger initiative or campaign, enabling them to attract additional sponsors. For others, it foots fundraisers and other events to grow a broader donor base. For still more, it means bigger productions and new talent, which in turn grows attendance and revenue.

Which brings us to partners. Gulf Coast changed the format of its funding for these major arts groups because we wanted to be better ones, not funding taskmasters. Our relationships with these institutions are long and valued. We also know how much they mean to our community, by way of how many community members support them, including our own family of donors. In other words, when we invest together in these exceptional arts organizations, we reaffirm and strengthen a shared regional identity and cultural life.

Gulf Coast often uses this column space to promote ideas that can move our region toward a more diversified, innovation-based economy. This one is really no different. Our research shows that competitive, high-performing regions must offer lifestyle amenities and creative opportunities that welcome diverse populations. Younger and older generations alike are highly mobile and attracted to unique places. As a community, our collective investment in the arts is one that pays us back today and will appreciate for the future.

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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