August 25, 1998
by Edmund Tsang
"The mission of the Mobile Arts Council (MAC) is to support and to encourage the support of the art in the Greater Mobile Area," said Jean Galloway, executive director of MAC. "Not only financial support but also support by attending art events." MAC is the official umbrella organization representing local art groups and lobbying on their behalf.
One major function is a fund drive every Spring to solicit corporate and citizen donations, Ms. Galloway explains in an interview last week in her large and airy office at 300 Dauphin Street in Downtown Mobile, and then to distribute the funds to support arts organizations and arts projects in the community. Besides the seven member organizations that receive yearly allocations, Galloway said MAC also funds other non-profit organizations on one-time projects as well as Art-in-Education projects. The seven member organizations are Mobile Ballet, Mobile Symphony, Mobile Theatre Guild, the Joe Jefferson Players, Mobile Chamber Music Society, Playhouse in the Park, and Mobile Historic Preservation Society. Although Mobile Opera also receives yearly funding, it is not a MAC member organization.
MAC publishes a monthly events calendar to help publicize art and cultural events in the city, Galloway says, and provides logistic support to groups such as First Night Mobile, which puts on the annual family-oriented New Year's Eve party in downtown Mobile.
While acknowledging that the talent level of local artists and art performances is very high, Galloway said "we are not packing the house." She recognizes that MAC has not been successful in marketing and publicizing the arts to the public in the past.
Several leaders in the Mobile Art scene, who speak off the record, voice criticism that MAC, as the lead art agency, has not been proactive or effective in promoting the arts to Mobilians on behalf of local arts organizations. "The MAC has not provided the guidance that I'd like to see to member organizations in marketing or fundraising, or do these things for the arts groups," one critic said.
Jeremy Shannon, director of Mobile Opera, Inc., said "if you allow an umbrella organization to do publicity for you, you can become vulnerable. Every art organization must be responsible for their own marketing. We are proactive in marketing."
Galloway recognizes that the lack of visibility could be one reason why the MAC has not been successful in its annual fund drive. "People want to know what their money is doing," Galloway said. "If they are not familiar with the Arts Council and they don't know specifically what the Arts Council is doing, they would be reluctant to give money and indeed they should be so."
Galloway attributes other factors such as company mergers and business closings in Mobile, and even lower federal funding for the arts as reasons for the drop in public and corporate support experienced by MAC. "It's kind of interesting because even though some people question whether the federal government should provide money for the arts, it serves as a telling indicator because when money from the federal level is down, private money goes down as well," said Galloway. "The 80's was just magnificent and there were money available for the arts, but money didn't seem to be available in the 90's. However, it is getting a little better." While the amount raised by fund drives has been increasing steadily since 1994-95, it still has not yet reached the level raised in 1993-94 -- see accompanying table on MAC's revenues and expenditures.
One critic said "MAC didn't campaign very visibly or vocally, nor did it ask sufficient people and often enough." Another critic said MAC "didn't do a good enough job of computerizing the fundraising operation."
There seems to be conflict between what MAC told local arts organizations and what it actually does. "MAC promised arts groups that they would get a bigger allocation if they raised more funds themselves, but when that happened, they actually received less allocation," one critic added.
Jeremy Shannon said restrictions on fundraising is one reason why Mobile Opera decided not to become a member organization. "We were told that there is a 3-to-4 month window that we cannot fundraise on our own because it conflicts with MAC's own fund drive," Shannon said. "We do fundraising all year around, and we didn't think we could make up for the loss from MAC if we didn't raise funds those months."
There were also several complaints that MAC is slow in using modern technology to promote the arts. One person said it would be nice if there were a bank of computers at the MAC office that are open to arts groups. Publishing an art events calendar that only comes out once a month, with its early deadline for submitting information, is neither efficient nor flexible enough like a web page to help art groups publicize the events they sponsor, another critic said.
Other complaints include poor communication from MAC concerning deadlines for submitting grant applications. "Grant writing is getting more complicated but MAC is not providing much support," this person said.
When asked why MAC has not yet launched a web page to provide an up-to-date art calendar, Galloway said: "We are a staff of three, and it's been difficult to get it launched with everything that's going on." Galloway said a MAC web page will be premiered at the end of this month.
With the recent changes in streamlining the structure of its Board of Directors, Galloway said MAC will be more responsive to carry out its mission of supporting local arts groups. The present Board consists of 15 members and no longer has representatives from membership organizations serving on it. "By cutting down the size of the board, we can work more effectively. We are meeting more frequently than the quarterly meetings we had in the past, which is hard to sustain interest among the board members, and we could do more business at each meeting," Galloway said. "Also, it would remove the appearance of conflict of interest when Board members who represent organizations receiving funding from MAC voted on board businesses." In addition to a number of action plans on marketing and publicizing the arts (see story on the Mobile Art Scene), Galloway said Dr. Leonard Rich is chairing a committee that meets regularly with representatives of arts groups to find out their needs.
However, one leader in the arts community is not sure if a Board without any representation by artists or art groups and dominated by business persons can make sound decisions. "Without experience and knowledge of the arts, how can they make wise decisions?" this critic asked.
Another voices similar concerns and questioned the recent decisions made by the MAC Board, pushing art groups to get audited. "While the MAC Board is pushing audit on us, it is not providing any support to carry out the audit," this critic said. "It may be a good business practice, but there were no reasons given for the audit."
Mike McKee of the Mobile Theatre Guild said MAC is making strides in the right direction after the reorganization, and seems to be doing much more to carry out its mission.
Charlie Smoke of WHIL-FM said he is encouraged by the effort of MAC to bring the various art groups closer together with formation of the Arts Coalition, which meets the first Friday of each month. The Coalition has published an Arts-in-Education catalog, which list the resources available to local school as well as the activities they can bring to the schools.
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ASCA = Alabama State Council on the Arts