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Many small arts groups cut back on programs this year as their city grant funding shrunk. But one group had no problem getting Raleigh leaders to open the purse strings.
The Carolina Ballet – which, at $250,000 a year, already gets more city dollars than the N.C. Symphony and countless smaller groups – recently asked the Raleigh City Council for an additional $75,000 this year and next. The ballet had lost a major private donor, and the council agreed this month to provide unspent money from the city’s fuel budget.
Had the city denied the request, “it would have forced us to seriously review our ability to do the scheduled season that we have planned,” ballet general manager Nate McGaha said.
Raleigh arts funding
A sampling of the groups that received city grants this fiscal year:
Carolina Ballet – $325,000
N.C. Symphony – $200,000
Artsplosure – $148,400
N.C. Theatre – $138,250
Artspace – $120,500
Raleigh Little Theatre – $84,000
Visual Art Exchange – $73,080
Greater Raleigh Community Music School – $23,915
Raleigh Boychoir – $15,000
Raleigh Civic Symphony and Chamber Orchestra – $5,340
The move rankled some arts groups and at least one councilman who think the ballet should go through the same application process as its peers. And while some said they’re glad to see the ballet receive more money, they say the growing number of arts organizations should prompt the city to increase its grant fund.
The budget planning process starts next month, and many are already working on their grant applications.
“I absolutely love the ballet, I have season tickets, but they should do the paperwork like the rest of us,” said Irene Burke, executive director of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra. “We get points taken off if we don’t get our paperwork in.”
The Raleigh Symphony Orchestra often gets confused with the N.C. Symphony, a far larger organization. The RSO performs about a dozen shows a year at Meredith College featuring professional musicians. Its ticket prices are more modest than the group’s larger peer, topping out at $25.
The RSO relies on city arts grants to pay its musicians, all of whom are local. But this year, the orchestra’s grant was cut nearly 29 percent to $14,285. Burke asked whether there was a problem with the application but was told “everyone got sliced,” she said. That has forced her to program more chamber music concerts, bringing out the full orchestra less often.
“I just can’t afford to have 65 bodies on that stage,” she said.
The N.C. Master Chorale also got cut this year, down 14 percent to $36,875. That money covers salaries for the organization’s two paid staff members – something many grant sources won’t pay for. “It helps pay for the more mundane things,” executive director Michelle Heil said, adding that the cut will mean smaller ensembles at concerts.
Bringing in business
Heil said the ballet and symphony – both of which have multi-year contracts for city funding – should have their separate grant process. “I’m perfectly happy with them being somewhere else in the budget,” she said. “I don’t mind not competing.”
It makes sense for the big players to get far more funding, Heil said. “They’re presenting way more performances than we are,” she said. “They’re doing more for the city economy. ... It’s another ball game.”
McGaha said Carolina Ballet’s performances bring 55,000 people a year to downtown – generating about $88 million in economic activity along with other major organizations.
“We’re bringing a great deal of business to the community,” he said, adding that city dollars make up less than 10 percent of the ballet’s budget.
$4.50 per resident
Raleigh is seeing increasing demand from smaller groups for funds. Last year, requests totaling $2 million were the most in the grant program’s 25-year history and exceeded available funding by $500,000 – prompting smaller totals for more organizations. Raleigh funds the arts at $4.50 per resident.
“I think our per capita funding that they have to award is low for a city our size, and a city that has as many arts groups as we do,” Heil said. “I think we’re due for an increase for available funds for arts organizations.”
That request will likely surface as Raleigh leaders begin budget talks in the coming weeks. They’ll hold a pre-budget public hearing at 7 p.m. Feb. 5 to get input on residents’ funding priorities.