GRAND RAPIDS — For the first time in at least seven years, the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts finished its fiscal year in the black — quite a stellar accomplishment considering many nonprofit organizations are struggling financially and some are even closing their doors.
Executive Director Jeff Meeuwsen said financial support from local foundations and the state, multiple revenue sources, and the largest membership roll in its 28-year history were why UICA had such a good fiscal year. Membership now tops 1,500 and has grown by 10 percent to 20 percent in each of the past three years.
“We have had focused membership drives three years in a row and those memberships drives have been very successful, although all the membership growth did not come out of those membership drives,” said Meeuwsen, who has also raised the number of UICA’s annual collaborative activities from 18 to 80.
“We’ve also made a concerted effort to do a better job of making people aware of what we do. We went through a complete identity revamp. We updated our Web site. We started sending weekly e-newsletters, and we don’t require people to be members to receive the weekly e-newsletters. And a lot of those people, once they see everything that we do, do eventually become members,” he added.
In addition to membership dues, the unique film program at UICA has become a solid revenue source. The program, which features independent and foreign films with national and international credentials, was expanded to seven days a week. A revamped concert series and more visual-arts exhibitions also brought UICA more revenue.
“It’s an important program to us and it continues to grow,” said Meeuwsen of the film series. “I think that we’re showing about 70 films a year, and these tend to be films that are not available anywhere else. There is nowhere it can go but grow, as more people find out about it.”
Also during the past fiscal year, UICA received grants from the Frey Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Steelcase Foundation, the Sebastian Foundation, the Dyer-Ives Foundation, the Arts Council of Greater Grand Rapids and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, along with a Cool Cities Catalyst Grant.
“In terms of government money, it’s way down. On the federal level there is a lot of publicity about the NEA funding actually growing, but it’s not funding that is available to an organization like UICA,” said Meeuwsen. “The NEA, in fact, has started to do some of its own programming, which it has never done before.”
State funding for the arts has declined dramatically over the last few years. Michigan was once near the top for funding arts organizations in the nation, but today the state is closer to the bottom of that pile.
To counter a lack of available government dollars, Meeuwsen has started searching for a director of development. He is hoping to find someone who knows the local development community and has a passion for what the organization is doing.
Although UICA had a surplus last year, it was small and Meeuwsen cautioned that UICA wasn’t out of the financial woods yet. The surplus went to paying off debt and the nonprofit has a $900,000 mortgage on its building at 41 Sheldon Blvd. SE. UICA also needs from $500,000 to $600,000 to fund the events scheduled for this fiscal year.
“We’re planning our program a year in advance, but we’re not raising money a year in advance. That’s our goal, to be able to work more and more in the future. There is a lot that you put out into the funding universe that you hope will come back, but we don’t have anything major solidified for the coming season,” he said.
That is why Meeuwsen is hoping to connect with business owners who are interested in the sponsorship opportunities UICA offers. Many are available in multiple areas because of all the various and unique programs the visual arts organization offers each year.
“I believe there are more and more businesses that are like-minded in terms of being an innovative, ground-breaking kind of business with the same mentality that UICA uses in presenting the arts. That kind of business is the perfect partner for us,” said Meeuwsen.
“We are definitely seeking sponsorship dollars, we’re definitely seeking partners, and we really have become good at creating win-win situations where there is a lot of publicity that we put before our constituents. Our membership is 1,500 but our constituents are over 10,000. So there are a lot of opportunities for people to partner with us on things that would help them build their business.”