Maintaining a small regional art school is no easy task — as deficits pile up and finances crumble, it is easy to succumb to inexperience and inefficiency. And throughout the 1980s, the New Haven arts scene was a vulnerable and unstable place to be.
In part, the solution has been the Greater New Haven Arts Stabilization Project — an offshoot of the Regional Cultural Plan — which has moved to make sure that the largest local institutions are secure.
Elizabeth Monz, the director of New Haven’s Regional Cultural Plan, said that a decade ago arts organizations would frequently run out of money, go into crisis mode, raise funds to bail themselves out, then repeat the cycle.
“[Now] there is a movement for businesses to dialogue with arts organizations,” Monz said. “Businesses have seen the impact of arts on the economy.”
Since it was launched in April 2001 after raising $5 million, the project has provided assistance to eight of the city’s most prominent institutions: the Creative Arts Workshop, Guilford Handcraft Center, the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, Long Wharf Theatre, Neighborhood Music School, New Haven Colony Historical Society, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, and the Shubert Performing Arts Center.
“The project is a very long-term project, a five- to seven-year project,” Monz said.
Frances “Bitsie” Clark, the executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, said the initiative has been limited to major arts institutions — which, despite their ages, are vulnerable to the same cash-flow problems as new organizations — in order to ensure that those institutions will continue to be economic linchpins.
“A viable and exciting arts community feeds off of the atmosphere of an audience coming in for these other established arts institutions,” Clark said. “If these institutions are floundering, you have a really shaky system.”
The program operates in three stages. The first phase of the program assesses the structure of the existing organization and to set up a work plan.
“We interview everyone from board members down to staff and customers,” Monz said.
The New Haven Colony Historical Society has just finished the assessment stage, which has produced results that its director, Paul Lamothe, described as “incredibly positive.”
Lamothe said the stabilization project recommended that his society develop a long-range plan and merge some of its committees to smooth out the decision-making process.
“[The stabilization project] requires all organizations to take an objective look and plan for the future,” Lamothe said. “They become better organizations across the board. The reward of going through with this will be the establishment of working capital reserves.”
The second phase of the initiative provides ongoing technical assistance, helping organizations manage their finances and implement their long-range goals.
Finally, the program will award grants, with an eye toward patching any temporary financial crises.
Both participants and project managers described the program as rigorous, suggesting that moving toward a stable arts scene is neither simple nor inevitable.
“It’s going to be hard work,” Lamothe said.
Monz expressed similar sentiments.
“There will be moments when they will be screaming and pulling their hair out,” she said.