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Staunton Augusta Art Center weathering economic storm

Six months ago, Beth Hodge told a local publication that the Staunton Augusta Art Center was holding up just fine in the face of the economic downturn, and speculated that the Art Center and the arts sector in Staunton in general was playing a role in helping mitigate the effects of the downturn locally.  “But it finally caught up with us,” said Hodge, the executive director of the Center, located in the R.R. Smith Center for History and Art in Downtown Staunton, and in a big way, too.

An annual grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts was cut by several thousand dollars, and when word of the cut reached the Art Center earlier this month, it sent the Center’s leaders scrambling to fill a serious short-term cash-flow crunch that threatened the organization’s long-term future.

“I almost cry when I think about it, because people responded and responded quickly,” said Hodge of the emergency fund drive that has raised $13,000 toward a $15,000 cash-flow gap to date.

There is still some work to do before the end of the month, Hodge said, and then through the end of the year to keep the Staunton Augusta Art Center’s budget on target.

It wasn’t long after Hodge talked about how the Art Center was weathering the economic storm that things started tightening up on the Center. The annual art auction took a hit in terms of depressed sponsorship monies, a hole that was magnified by a sharp decline in participation in its summer studio-art program.

The best practice for any organization is to have multiple streams of revenues so that a decline in any one area doesn’t significantly impact the overall bottom line, but unfortunately for the Staunton Augusta Art Center it seems that multiple streams are being impacted and impacted hard right now.

The good news is that for now it appears that the Center is on the verge of being able to meet its short-term cash-flow needs. The concern now has shifted from the near-term to the long-term. “What happens if we hit this kind of crunch again? How many times can people rise to the occasion?” Hodge points out.

Another fear is that the Center may have simply traded in this crunch for another one later this year as the donors who were able to pull the organization through in the summer pull back donations for the annual campaign later this year or maybe decide to hold off on purchasing art items to the detriment of that part of the Art Center’s bottom line.

“There is some risk involved in doing what we did. The timing was critical, but we needed the money when we needed the money. Hopefully we’ll be able to balance our budget later in the year. But we had to take the gamble that we did,” Hodge said.

 

– Story by Chris Graham


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