THE BLOG

An Amazing Week

02/03/2014 08:31 am ET | Updated Apr 05, 2014

I have grown increasingly nervous about the future of diverse arts institutions in the United States. So many have disappeared, others are facing huge cash problems and most are watching as donors shift their priorities to other interests.

But I recently had an amazing week with two of my consulting clients that reinforced my optimism that we will always have a core of important, vital arts organizations of color in the United States.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, Sarah Bellamy was named the next Artistic Director of Penumbra Theatre. I met Sarah a year ago when I began a consultancy with Penumbra. I had worked before with Lou Bellamy, the remarkable founder of Penumbra and Chris Widdess, its Managing Director, for over a decade. Together they have created an amazing theater organization that is true to its mission and able to find resources needed to produce excellent theater.

When I began to work to write a strategic plan for Penumbra, it was coming off of a major salvage period that I have written about before. After a shortfall was recognized in the fall of 2012, Chris and Lou went on a fundraising binge and raised over $500,000 to save Penumbra.

Shortly after the crisis, it was decided that Sarah would be the next Artistic Director, to begin in 2017. I cannot imagine a better choice. Sarah grew up at Penumbra, it is in her blood. But she does not simply carry on her father's legacy. She is committed to maintaining the best of the past but also adding a stronger education focus and integration of special programs and main stage productions. She is articulate, passionate and sensible.

And the plan we developed is now being implemented; the results are impressive and bode well for the future: art is now planned two seasons out, a marketing manager has been hired, and multi-year grants, that totaled $330,000 in June, now total $1.5 million!

I think Penumbra's best days are ahead.

A few days later I was in Kansas City, Missouri, where I started my arts management career, to conclude a planning consultancy with the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey. KCFAA is a remarkable organization, now celebrating its 30th anniversary, that presents the Ailey company, created AileyCamp (now in 10 cities), and educates over 30,000 children each year. The organization has a steadfast, deep and perpetual commitment to uniting people of differing backgrounds. Any not-for-profit organization that has a true interest in embracing diversity should study the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey.

The plan we announced this week includes an expanded annual programming calendar, enhanced marketing efforts and a more aggressive fundraising campaign. We also announced a substantial challenge grant, $375,000 from the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation, which should help the organization create a far stronger donor base. Several other donors have already made substantial pledges to meet this match.

Both Penumbra and KCFAA were willing to address their strengths and weaknesses objectively, to create a viable plan and, most important, to work diligently to implement that plan.

In both cases this hard work is already showing results.