Local nonprofits worry they'll never receive their Illinois Arts Council grants.
Last month, when Illinois Arts Council (IAC) chairman Shirley Madigan reached out to hundreds of arts organizations and individual artists across the state who are waiting for their fiscal 2010 IAC grants, she had good news and bad news.
The good news is that the state still intends to distribute the grants. The bad news is that “the time frame for receiving the actual payments will extend into future months,” according to Madigan’s letter—and these artists, museums, dance companies, orchestras, theaters and other nonprofits expected to receive the grants, which range from a few hundred dollars to six-figure sums, several months ago.
“It’s a very sad situation,” says IAC executive director Terry Scrogum. “Organizations have committed to and already carried out programs based on funding that they will receive, but they’re not receiving it for six or seven months, and that of course puts a big strain on them.”
The delays affect both large institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago and small ones such as Lucky Plush Productions and the Experimental Sound Studio. Though frustrated, the institutions’ staff don’t blame the delay on the IAC, but on the state’s overall economic crisis, which is also devastating education and social services. Ra Joy, executive director of the advocacy organization Arts Alliance Illinois, believes we’re worse off than headline-grabbing California, where “at least they’re paying their vendors,” entities to whom the state owes money, like nonprofits and health-care providers. Until Gov. Pat Quinn and other state legislators pass “a responsible budget,” Joy adds, “it’s an incredibly scary time for artists and arts organizations in Illinois.”
Scary, but not surprising. Scrogum reminds us that his agency’s budget has plummeted 63 percent—to $7.5 million—since fiscal 2007. Some of the IAC’s grants were late in fiscal 2009, as well. Hank Boland, Strawdog Theatre Company’s managing director, echoes many grantees in saying, “We didn’t count on getting the money.” He informs us the theater made up its “small but critical” shortfall by relying more on private donors, a common refrain. But for some small nonprofits, the IAC delays have meant big sacrifices: Same Planet Different World’s (SPDW) dancers gave up their rehearsal pay rather than cut productions, says Joanna Rosenthal, who’s stopped receiving a stipend for her work as SPDW artistic director. Shifting to “foundation, corporate and individual support,” which Museum of Contemporary Art CFO Peter Walton says is the MCA’s strategy for weathering the storm, remains a challenge for some organizations as the recession keeps buffeting the private sector. “Diverse revenue streams” sustain the Hyde Park Art Center, HPAC executive director Kate Lorenz assures us. But she sees individual artists, some of whom were promised $5,000 by the IAC, struggling to make up their losses.
The HPAC, the Renaissance Society and Thodos Dance Chicago are among the few lucky institutions that did receive their grants—because they were singled out for federal funds by the National Endowment for the Arts, clarifies Alex A.G. Shapiro, the IAC’s director of research, planning and marketing. While the agency’s budget has crept back up to $8.5 million for fiscal 2011, Scrogum warns that Quinn probably will impose a “reserve” on grants, freezing recipients’ access to at least five percent of the money until the state’s finances improve. Fiscal 2011 applications were due in April; our sources’ pessimism about them appears justified. “We don’t know how much will be available to award,” Scrogum admits, “and even once that is known, [we still won’t be] able to predict how long it’s going to take for those grants to be paid.”
To participate in Arts Alliance Illinois’s legislative action alerts, visit arts4illinois.org.