Dodge Foundation comes to aid of arts groups

By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

By gloria stravelli
Staff Writer

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation has stepped up support of local arts groups to offset across-the-board decreases in state funding to the arts.

Trustees of the Morristown-based Dodge Foundation recently approved a total of $5.2 million in arts grant payments to arts organizations throughout the state, including the Monmouth County Arts Council (MCAC) and Two River Theatre Company (TRTC), both Red Bank, and New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch.

Along with $1.3 million in previously announced grants, Dodge funding to arts organization over the past year totals $6.5 million.

Dr. Barbara Debs, chairwoman of the arts committee of the Dodge board of trustees, said the grants recognize the fact that arts organizations have strug­gled with the economic realities of the past two years.

"We have responded with an in­creased investment in the arts," she said.

"We were committed to funding New Jersey arts institutions, especially mid-sized organizations, at levels that would help sustain their efforts through these difficult times," added Laura Aden, the foundation’s program director for the arts.

"Ninety-five grants were made to museums and galleries, community and media arts organizations, and perform­ing arts organizations in the areas of theater, dance and music as well as or­ganizations that provide services to the field and individual artists. The awards included 10 first-time grantees.

"Phenomenal" is how Jonathan Fox, executive director of the Two River Theatre Company, characterized the $70,000 Dodge Foundation grant the company has been awarded.

"The fund is truly remarkable and commendable to be able to raise fund­ing to arts groups to such an extent," said Fox, whose theater company re­ceived $50,000 in Dodge funding last year.

Fox said the company, which is in the midst of a capital campaign to raise funds for a new 300-seat theater in Red Bank, would use the grant to help offset cuts in state funding. TRTC received $45,000 from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, down $7,000 from last year. "We had planned on a bigger reduction," he noted.

Coping with a 6.6 percent decrease in state funding this year, MCAC re­ceived $10,000 from the Dodge Founda­tion to support its community outreach projects.

"We applied for $46,000, but in this year, that could not happen. We’re pleased to get this amount," said Mary Eileen Fouratt, MCAC executive direc­tor, adding that this is the second year the council has been awarded a $10,000 grant by the Dodge Foundation.

The arts council will receive roughly $187,000 in funding from the NJSCA in 2003-04.

MCHA will get those funds in two installments, though, because its fiscal year doesn’t coincide with the state’s.

"Because our fiscal year straddles the state arts council’s fiscal year, they are giving us 75 percent of the amount they actually are awarding us," Fouratt explained. "They will give us the last 25 percent from next year’s budget."

Fouratt said the council would get the final 25 percent in August.

MCHA will regrant $140,000 of the total amount to local arts groups in September and will use the remaining $40,000 for administrative costs and programs.

"We were happy it was such a low percentage cut after anticipating the possible elimination of the program," she explained. "We were looking to have to deal with a lot worse."

Fouratt praised the NJSCA for ab­sorb­ing the cuts while maintaining fund­ing to local arts groups.

"It’s a testament to the state arts council and their concern for all the arts groups. They took an 11 percent cut and translated that to a number of groups as a 6 or 7 percent cut. Once again they have trimmed their administrative bud­get not to have to cut programs. We’re going to do the same thing."

This year, the MCHA will also re­ceive $14,300 from the NJSCA as the final installment in a three-year local arts staffing initiative for its arts educa­tion programs. The amount of the grant decreases every year and the arts coun­cil must now find a way to raise half of the funds needed to pay its arts educa­tion director.

Fouratt said that would mean getting more corporate and foundation grants and building membership.

"It’s a tough year and corporate funds are harder to get," she acknowledged. "In general, everybody has tightened their belts and has had to work harder to sometimes get less. Clearly some have already cut back in anticipation of less funding from the state."

Already modest, the amount of NJSCA funding awarded to New Jersey Repertory Company was $5,352 not the $50,000 hoped for. The fiscal year 2003-4 award is a decrease from the $6,500 the company received the previous year.

"We knew there weren’t going to be increases; rather there would be de­creases," said New Jersey Rep co-founder Dr. Gabor Barabas.

The funding cut, he said, would have the greatest impact on new initiatives like offering theater programs for stu­dents.

But the Dodge Foundation continued support to the Long Branch-based the­ater group with a $70,000 grant.

"The foundation has been supporting us almost from the very moment they heard about us," said Barabas of the grant, which was a $10,000 increase over the amount the company received from the foundation in the two prior years. "They were one of our first major supporters. They have helped us grow."

Barabas cited NJ Rep’s unique mis­sion as a reason for the foundation’s continued support.

"We’re one of the few professional theaters in the state that does mostly new plays because our mission is to contribute to the American stage. They [the Dodge Foundation] understand that’s fraught with problems and vulner­abilities because it’s a risky process," he said. "They’re also committed to the fact that we have always seen ourselves as involved in the redevelopment of our blighted community. Many theaters are in more affluent areas so development of an audience is a little less difficult."

According to Barabas, NJ Rep tradi­tionally receives the majority of its grant money and support from founda­tions and private contributions.

The theater company had a $350,000 budget in the last three seasons, he ex­plained, "so that the amount we got from the state obviously was not a major part of our budget. There are other orga­nizations where state monies might rep­resent 20 percent of their budget; with us it’s more like 3 percent."

The current level of state funding is in line with what the company has re­ceived over the past three years, he said, and reflects the across-the-board cuts to arts organizations made neces­sary by the state’s fiscal constraints.

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, established in 1974, provides grants to organizations in five areas of giving: the arts, education, Morris County initia­tives, environmental issues and the wel­fare of animals.