Merced arts council busy trying to raise funds

12/06/2012 11:30 PM

12/07/2012 12:32 AM

Many in the local arts and music scene have contributed to a recent flurry of fund-raising events and campaigns to help save the Merced Multicultural Arts Center.

The outpouring of support was prompted by the threat of closure, as well as promises that the facility would usher in a new era of financial stability and innovation.

“Instead of constantly asking for emergency assistance, I think it can be run like a business,” said Laura Phillips, executive director of the Merced Arts Council, the nonprofit that operates the arts center.

“We are going to aggressively pursue third-party, arts-related renters and more programs, more classes to make the arts center profitable,” she added. To give Phillips time to revamp the art center’s business model, community members have donated significant amounts of money, held fund-raising events and even posed for a charity calendar.

Local independent artist Monika Modest held several workshops over the past few weeks to raise money for the arts center. Participants made a donation to paint and glaze ceramic tiles that will be used to decorate the building’s main staircase.

“People are very excited about the idea that their tiles will be on the risers of those steps,” she said. All three of the original workshops were full, and she continues to get calls frompeople who want to participate. She said she will hold additional workshops in the near future

Last week, the Downtown Life Magazine held an "Awkward Family Photo" event at the arts center, which donated all proceeds to help keep the building open.

People wore colorful sweaters and took playful pictures against a holiday-themed backdrop. The sweaters and other props were provided for participants, who received their pictures printed on greeting cards and through e-mail.

A second Awkward Family Photo event will be held Dec. 14 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the arts center, said Tom Price, DLM editor and publisher.

"I think the arts center should be the epicenter of our growing arts community, and it starts with each of us recognizing its importance before it's gone," he said.

Meanwhile, Jordan Cowman, an assistant animal technician at UC Merced, has put together the "Men of Downtown Sexy Calendar" to raise money for the arts center.

The tongue-in-cheek calendar features various members of the downtown arts and culture community in comical poses.

"It's really Merced's only arts museum," Cowman said. "It's got some really cool activities. I'd hate to see it not be around anymore."

The calendar, which can be pre-ordered at, will be available for pickup at the arts center by the end of the month, Cowman said.

Efforts paying off

These and other fund- raising efforts have so far brought in about $2,000, according to the arts council.

While that's a small fraction of all the total money raised this season for the arts center, the events help introduce people to the facility, supporters say.

"More valuable than the dollars we raise is the exposure," Price said. "You get people in and they see the facility, and now you have people who are more informed and can contribute."

Modest said many of the people who came to her workshop had never been in the arts center before.

"They didn't realize Merced had a center like this," she said. "It was a pleasant surprise when they wander in there and see there are exhibits and art classes that are not just for a small group of people. They really are for the whole community."

At the same time, Phillips said, she's seeking some big donations from the community. She said she's been able to secure 17 pledges of at least $1,000 a year for two years.

"We're asking for two years so we don't have to do it again," she said. "That gives me time to shore up the programming, to create partnerships with other agencies."

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or


The Merced Multicultural Center continues to battle financial instability:

So far this year, the center said it has about $49,661 in membership dues, pledges and donations.

Last year, the arts center said it raised about $49,000 in membership dues and donations.

The arts center has said it's running a roughly $6,000 deficit per month.

As of November, the arts center said it had about $27,000 in stocks and savings. In 2011, that number was about $60,000.

In 2007, the arts center had about $80,000 in reserves to fall back on.

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