Richmond Confidential: After city reduces funding, Richmond Art Center campaigns for donations to keep going
Sasha Schell on December 13, 2022
The Richmond Art Center has overcome much in recent years, including the closure forced on all during the pandemic and more recently, a significant loss in donations over the summer.
As 2023 looms, Executive Director José Rivera says that despite bouncing back from the major revenue losses of 2020, the RAC is still in need of additional funding to return to its pre-pandemic level of operation.
When Rivera was appointed in 2020, the RAC was just over $110,000 in the red, causing him to cut staff by about half in his first six months. And though he was able to keep the organization in the black through 2021, the challenges kept coming.
In January, the center learned that it could no longer expect to receive about 23% of its annual funding past July, with three major donors either dropping out or cutting back. The loss was upwards of $300,000, with the city itself making up the largest portion at around $150,000.
Citing a changed economic landscape, the city’s Department of Arts and Culture Manager Winifred Day explained the cuts as an attempt to fund all local art organizations equitably, without picking favorites. Though the city still provides around $55,000 to the RAC’s annual budget, it no longer matches donations that Rivera and his team raise. Day emphasized that the city encourages all organizations to fundraise to fill any gaps.
That is precisely what Rivera and his team have done since January, winning upwards of $150,000 in grants in a matter of months. But that comes with its own complications.
The problem of grant funding, explains Rivera, is that it is often program-specific and cannot be used for operational costs. And without money for more staff, the center is hard-pressed to make good use of new-found grant dollars through classes and other programs.
This “Catch-22” gets at the core of how the RAC raises a large portion of its operational budget, through registration fees for classes. From July 2020 through the end of June 2021, the RAC saw class fees drop nearly 75%, from almost $500,000 to barely $122,000. And though numbers are not yet publicly available for this past year, limited staff has meant a severely diminished schedule.
“So that’s why you see these appeals asking people to be generous, because what we really need is money to run the place,” Rivera said. “We certainly got enough money to run programs.”
The center has been actively campaigning this fall, with a call for donations circulating in a newsletter last month. In it, board President Michael Dear cites another 18 months as the timeline for the center’s full recovery, given the funding and staffing shortages.
The center is on a good trend, with roughly $68,000 raised through November. That’s a promising start, considering the center has historically been able to raise three times that amount between November and January.
With the day-to-day running of the center returning to some semblance of normality, albeit a masked normality, Rivera remains highly optimistic and hopes to hire another staff member to run classes in January, especially during high demand times like evenings and weekends.
Currently, the center’s budget sits at $1.2 million. For Rivera, the goal is to get back to where the center was before the pandemic, on the way toward $2 million. That, however, will depend on demand for classes and generosity from the community.