Bond issue creates sudden need for a United Way of culture
By Michael Lewis
Voters who just approved a $553 million bond issue for cultural facilities may have bitten off more than they realized.
The cultural section of the county's $2.9 billion bond program is unique in that it creates a concurrent obligation to privately finance beneficiaries of the money. That cultural package will intensify pressure for donations to operate facilities bonds will build. Since virtually all of them will lose money, donors must keep them open.
For example, $100 million in bonding for a new Miami Art Museum in Bicentennial Park triggers a $100 million parallel fundraising effort to not only pay for the balance of construction but also to develop a vital endowment to build the museum's collection and keep it open.
The Museum of Science and Planetarium, the other principal beneficiary of bond money in the same park with $175 million, must run a private financing campaign of comparable size at the same time.
On a smaller scale, other beneficiaries must augment bond proceeds with funds for operations, immediately and into the future.
When operators of the Hampton House, 4200 NW 27th Ave., get $4.7 million to turn it into a social and cultural center, they will need money to keep the doors open. The $300,000 to restore Miami's first high school, at 142 SW 11th St., won't keep the building in shape later. The $1 million to restore the Curtiss mansion, 500 Deer Run in Miami Springs, as an educational and research center on the history of aviation won't go to operate the center - just to create it. And $10 million for a Cuban museum at a site yet to be determined won't pay for a collection or operating costs.
Most difficult will be financing eight performing-arts facilities that will need constant funding campaigns. The $5 million to buy and renovate the Carver Theatre, 6016 NW Seventh Ave., won't keep the doors open. The $6.3 million for a cultural-arts center at Milander Auditorium in Hialeah is just for a structure, not a functioning entity. And so on.
Most of these buildings won't get government aid. Few have endowments. That puts the burden on private contributors, who not only will pay taxes to build or renovate projects but must dig into their pockets to open them and then keep them open.
There's nothing wrong with looking to donors to finance culture. The problem is getting the money.
The Performing Arts Center downtown - which isn't a bond beneficiary - will not only cost about a half-billion dollars to construct but will need a substantial endowment to operate. Its professional fundraising staff has raised $55 million of an $80 million goal, mostly for construction rather than endowment - and has taken almost a decade to do it.
With a single vote Nov. 2, arts and cultural donation needs soared hundreds of millions of dollars, leaving the $25 million at the Performing Arts Center a relatively minor part of the gap.
And the funding gap this brick-and-mortar bond issue created is only one side of the story. On the other side are needs of performing groups that will headline the Performing Arts Center, the eight beneficiary performance facilities and venues such as the Gusman downtown and the Jackie Gleason on Miami Beach.
With rare exceptions, these groups run on the ragged edge and scrape to survive. How much of their potential funding will be diverted into buildings they perform in rather than the performances themselves?
With limited donations and rapidly expanding demands, Miami more than ever needs a community group to finance arts and culture, a central clearinghouse that can run a concerted funding campaign for culture and rationally expend proceeds to keep both performance groups and cultural institutions alive and vibrant. Think of it as the United Way of arts and culture.
A single campaign could ease the constant pressure to donate yet actually increase total funding with one professional staff and one message countywide civic organizations and businesses support. An elected board could allocate funds fairly and rationally.
Today, it's every group for itself and those with the most clout win - regardless of community need or a group's relative contribution. That's great for some groups but not the best allocation of scarce resources - and it doesn't maximize the pot of money. There's more available for arts and culture than this community now raises in free-for-all fundraising.
Three things would impede a community campaign: inertia (why rock the boat?), territoriality (don't mess with my board or my gala) and fear (there won't be enough to go around, so I want mine before it's all gone).
But trumping all three is the sudden mushrooming of need. On Nov. 2, the gap in arts and cultural funding here doubled or tripled. Without a concerted effort that sets aside parochial interests and funds the cultural community as a whole, we don't have a prayer of meeting that need.
What business or civic group will seize the challenge and the opportunity that this new bond funding creates and get the ball rolling for a new United Way of culture?