Arts and Culture

Artistry Theater and Visual Arts is back on track, but offers a warning

The exterior of a city building
The Bloomington Center for the Arts is seen on Jan. 6 in Bloomington, Minn. The center houses the nonprofit Artistry Theater and Visual Arts.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

After months of financial uncertainty, Artistry Theater and Visual Arts shared some good news but warned what happened to them could happen to other Minnesota arts organizations. 

At a Jan. 9 meeting, the Bloomington City Council approved a $250,000 grant to the arts organization. 

Artistry had faced a financial crisis in 2022, due to a poor audience showing in their first season back from COVID-19 as well as not having a clear picture of how many unpaid fees and debts Artistry had incurred over the last year, according to Patrick Milan, the board president.  

Milan said that without a financial dashboard, the leadership and board at the time made “decisions that really should not have been made.” 

At many moments during the crisis, Milan was not sure Artistry would survive. 

“I wrote the news release announcing the closing and dissolution of Artistry three different times. I was convinced it was over, we weren't going to make it back,” he said.  

Along with the grant from the city, Artistry has received a $50,000 loan from Propel Nonprofits, an organization that specializes in helping nonprofits in trouble. Artistry is now set to produce its season and resume some community arts education programs. This is after it announced most staff had been laid off and that several shows had been canceled or postponed.  

Acting Executive Director Kelli Foster Warder said that she hopes that artists whose shows were affected will be able to come back to their projects. 

“Everyone that's been contracted or verbally invited, we hope comes back and is able to finally do the good work that they were ready to do,” Foster Ward said.  

She also apologized for the impact the crisis had on people:  

“It's heartbreaking, and it changed a lot of people's lives and impacted a lot of people in ways that were difficult.” 

Milan, the board president, said that while the organization acknowledges and apologizes to people affected, it also made the organization reevaluate itself.  

“It forced us to do the thing we were reluctant to do, which was look to the future, because it could be so painful to make change,” said Milan.  

Foster Warder said that conversations about financial responsibility and best practices moving forward have been happening. Propel Nonprofits is set to hold monthly meetings with Artistry, as well as offer training for their board members on how best to serve. 

“We want to make sure that we're financially sustainable, for everyone's sake,” Foster Warder said. She added that another part of the conversation has been how the organization will produce art in the future and where it fits into the community.  

“What is the right way to make arts in a post-pandemic and post-racial awakening?” Foster Warder said. “How do we create a more equitable and more sustainable organization, where people are at the center?” 

Another change coming to Artistry is that they will no longer handle the box office for the Bloomington Center for the Arts, which houses other arts organizations as well as Artistry. Those responsibilities will be taken over by the city, though Artistry still plans to support the city’s efforts at the center in other ways.  

As Artistry looks to the future and begins searching for other funding opportunities, Milan wants to let people know that what happened to Artistry is a cautionary tale for others. He says other organizations could find themselves in similar situations, especially in the wake of COVID-19.  

“What happened to Artistry is not an anomaly. The arts industry is really struggling,” Milan said. “We all have to understand our role. And also, be really cognizant of understanding what the audiences want”  

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.
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