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Below is a letter from former Board Member, Fred Albert. Fred served as Seattle Children’s Theatre Public Relations Manager and Seattle Repertory Theatre Publications Manager. His rich background in theater certainly gives him insight into our new arts campus.
In the movie Field of Dreams, a ghostly voice whispers to Kevin Costner, “If you build it they will come.” Building an arts center is different from building a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield; an arts center requires thorough financial planning to ensure sustainability.
Since Vashon Center for the Arts was proposed in late 2007, Vashon Allied Arts has worked to be certain VCA will be on solid ground well into the future. VAA Board and staff members looked at similar projects in other communities and learned what worked and what didn’t work with their projects.
Consulting with Vashon arts groups, VAA Deputy Director Angela Luechtefeld mapped a typical year of events in the new facility, then projected revenue and expenses for the building’s first five years. She explained that you can look ahead as far as you like, but if programming were to significantly change, formulas would also need to change. This is why business models for arts organizations typically encompass a period of about five years. Her goal in establishing the business model was to develop an economic strategy that would steer VCA toward financial stability starting Day One, while keeping user fees and ticket prices affordable.
“There will be increased costs to take care of the building,” acknowledges Luechtefeld. “But we are also going to have increased ticket revenue because our seating capacity will triple and we will have the opportunity to attract a wider variety of performers. “We’ll be able to pay a fee, rather than a cut of the door,” Luechtefeld says,. Expanded classroom and gallery space will also increase revenue.
No one is suggesting that every VCA performance will sell out. But even conservative estimates suggest that annual attendance will increase by 250 percent. Larger audiences will allow VAA to compete for sponsorships from corporations.
Vashon arts organizations demonstrate a long track record with proven audience histories, unlike some other communities that built buildings and then scrambled to develop programs to fill them. Even so, Luechtefeld anticipates there will always be an operating revenue gap although it will reduce each of the first 4-5 years. Most of the revenue gap will be covered by a substantial operating reserve (currently valued at $8 million) and ongoing fundraising will preserve the principal.
Why not use that money to fund the building’s construction instead? The majority of the sum is in a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust, and at the donor’s direction will be used for long-term sustainability. This fund will serve as a valuable cushion to cover any future shortfalls and to keep programs affordable.
With this safety net in place and continued rigorous planning, VAA hopes to create a building that will serve the Island’s arts needs now and for many years to come.