Sunday, June 10, 2012

Utica gallery wants to attract a broader, more diverse audience

The Utica OD reported on the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute's recent efforts to expand its audience. The article relates:

The mysteries of ancient Egypt still have the power to awe and inspire, and now Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute is hoping they will draw thousands of visitors to the museum this summer.
The exhibit is the third in a series designed to attract a broader audience to the nearly 100-year-old institution and revitalize its relationship with the community it calls home.
“The whole vision is for the institute to become more welcoming, more accessible, for our programs to be broader based, more vibrant and better connected overall to the community,” MWPAI President Anthony Spiridigloizzi said.
The show, “Shadow of the Sphinx, Ancient Egypt and its Influence,” comes on the heels of the “Wedded Perfection” dress exhibit that attracted 14,000 people. An exhibit of photographer Ansel Adams’ works drew 7,000.
The institute also is ramping up its schedule of public programs accompanying exhibits to appeal to people of all ages. School programs also are being expanded.
Spiridigloizzi, who took on the institute’s top spot in December, said the effort to broaden the audience is a fundamental part of its mission.
But it’s also a matter of long-term survival. In today’s tough economic times, even an organization with a large endowment such as Munson-Williams-Proctor must adjust, he said.
“We have no crisis, but if we are not careful, we will jeopardize the future of the organization and its ability to serve the community 25 years from now,” he said.
Though its endowment is about $95 million, that’s close to 40 percent less than it was before the economic crisis hit, and the museum has been taking out more than it should to cover operating costs, Spiridigloizzi said.
Dollars and cents
Spiridigloizzi said $95 million might sound like a lot of money, but in the current economy it shouldn’t be assumed it will be there forever.
Spiridigloizzi said as a general rule, organizations such as his are advised to use no more than 3 to 5 percent of their endowments to fund their operating budgets. If they use more, they will chip away at their capital and might ultimately fail.
Today, the institute is spending on average almost 6 percent of its endowment annually — $6.9 million — to fund more than half of its $12 million annual budget, he said.
“We’ve got a tug-of-war going on between the future and the present,” he said. “The present wants to keep spending, but if we pull too much out, we won’t be here for future generations.”

Under the current budget, only about 5 percent comes from fundraising and the rest comes from tuition from students at Munson-Williams-Proctor’s offshoot of Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, ticket sales and art shop sales, he said. Spiridigloizzi said he wants to increase the amount generated by fundraising.
The institute employs 182 people, with 106 of those full time. Their salaries and benefits take up about 57 percent of the budget. About 25 percent of the budget goes toward programming and the rest to items including utilities and debt service.
Doug Sauer, CEO of the New York Council of Nonprofits, said many organizations are going though similar stresses.
On hearing the institute’s budget figures, he said it does appear to be taking more out of their endowment than is healthy.
“It’s like raiding your savings,” Sauer said. “Eventually, you are going to run out of savings.”
He also said Spiridigloizzi’s plans made sense.
“Sometimes, when you have an endowment, organizations don’t make the tough decisions,” he said.
Reaching out
The push to draw a broader, more diverse audience is under way on several fronts, Spiridigloizzi said.
In addition to blockbuster exhibits such as “Shadow of the Sphinx,” the institute is working with organizations such as the Utica City School District and Oneida County Tourism.
Oneida County Tourism President Kelly Blazosky said she worked with the museum to promote previous exhibits and is looking forward to doing the same this summer.
“Those have proven to be a tool for us to use in our promotional efforts for the region,” she said.
Such exhibits add one more thing to visitors’ lists of things to do in the area, she said. That means they might stay an extra day and eat a few more meals at local venues, she said.
Utica schools Superintendent Bruce Karam said he had been in talks with Spiridigloizzi about the possibility of enabling high school students to take advanced arts courses that would offer college credits.
He said similar programs with Utica College, Mohawk Valley Community College and Syracuse University had been successful and he had high hopes for a partnership with Munson-Williams-Proctor.
Spiridigloizzi also wants to reach out to the different ethnic communities in Utica as well.
“This is what the Proctors wanted,” Spiridigloizzi said of the family that founded the institute in 1919. “For this to be an artistic, musical and social center for our community.”