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For small arts organizations struggling to get off the ground, seeking tax-exempt status can be daunting.
To be a nonprofit in the state of California — an organization that works for the “public benefit,” and does not distribute profits or gains to individuals or shareholders — requires that organizations develop articles of incorporation and bylaws, create (and answer to) a board of directors, as well as maintain extensive record-keeping: minutes, financials, budgets and more. It can often involve a drastic change to the way smaller arts and culture organizations operate.
The upside is, of course, funding. Beyond being able to lure donors, a 501(c)(3) status opens doors to many public grants not available to individuals.
Nick Lesley is founder and executive director of Space Time, an arts organization that presents screenings, performances and music installations. Lesley said that as an organization, they’ve struggled with the decision to go for nonprofit status.
“We all have day jobs and don’t know that we could make enough as a business, even with the support of grant money, to pay ourselves to do this work,” he said. “It’s difficult to dedicate time to the constant grant writing process that is necessary.”
The organization seeks a permanent venue to host regular programming (plus a mixed-use commercial cafe and arts library) and the ability to dependably pay rent and artist stipends. Nonprofit status, they believe, could offer the ability to better raise funds to achieve this.
Public arts funding in San Diego, such as the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture OSP grant, the holy grail of non-project-based operational funding in town, requires not just official 501(c)(3) status, but also at least three years of programming. And many individual donors won’t deliver a substantial gift unless that donation will be considered tax-deductible.
“It’s really hard for individual artists to apply for funding as an individual artist,” said Ethan Van Thillo, who founded San Diego’s Media Arts Center as a nonprofit 20 years ago. Van Thillo said that they approach their fiscal sponsorship work — whether it be with filmmakers or small arts organizations — as a direct outlet for their own mission and vision statements, enabling underserved voices to tell their stories and make films and art, effectively allowing the individuals the ability to harness the Media Art Center’s nonprofit powers (and tax ID) for their projects.
The fiscal sponsorship model has recently come into focus with the San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst program, started in 2012, which encourages individual artists and non-501(c)(3) organizations long since shut out of the city’s OSP grant and other public funding to link with established nonprofits as sponsors.
“I’d never recommend someone just start a nonprofit from scratch,” Van Thillo said. “I recommend that they have a fiscal sponsor for the first two, three years.” Then, a group could spend some time building programming and developing an advisory council (which would then become a board).
Adam Stutz, one of the co-curators for Nonstandard Lit, a longstanding San Diego reading series, said that the complicated process — and a lack of available education and workshops — has kept them from formalizing the nonprofit status. Stutz would like to see more training programs in place in San Diego for navigating funding, particularly in the steps it takes to become a nonprofit, but also calls for civic leaders to continue to prioritize and push for broader arts funding. Stutz believes that arts funding is “an important area of civic engagement for our communities to continue to grow and thrive.”
San Diego is brimming with arts organizations navigating the confusing territory of funding and economic viability.
“The DIY nature of how we do things has connected us with art people, not necessarily San Diego art funding institutions,” said Lesley. In this environment, vital collaborations and makeshift partnerships have emerged, though they’re not necessarily ones that lead to funding.
San Diego’s Book Crawl is here. From April 27-29, grab a passport from any of the following bookstores, and with a $5 purchase, they’ll stamp it. Five stamps earns a tote bag, seven a pin and nine stamps earns you even more prizes and major pride. Here are some tips on bagging all nine!
The three-day crawl is built on Saturday’s Independent Bookstore Day, billed as a nationwide one-day “party,” so let’s frontload on Saturday:
Get UC San Diego Bookstore out of the way first. It’s closed on Sunday, and Monday means competing with midterms-frazzled students for parking. Park in the Gilman parking structure, which is free on weekends. Susie Ghahremani, aka boygirlparty.com, will be artist-in-residence from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Ghahremani illustrated tote bags, a map and a button for the event. Also, Scott Paulson and his Teeny Tiny Pit Orchestra will perform throughout the day.
Hit up Warwick’s La Jolla next for Saturday’s St. Jordi’s Day celebration, which combines the memorials of literary legends Cervantes and Shakespeare with the traditional Catalonia St. George’s Day celebration.
Next, head to Run for Cover Books in OB, which will be closed on Monday so be sure to go on the weekend. Then, La Playa Books in Point Loma is basically right around the corner.
From 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Library Shop downtown, Ghahremani is doing a special pre-release signing of her new “Little Muir’s Song” children’s book, and FYI the Padres are out of town so parking won’t suck.
That’s five in one day, so claim your well-earned tote.
Sunday is a good day to visit the uptown contingent. In fact, Book Catapult in South Park and Verbatim Books in North Park are just over a mile apart. Ghahremani appears at Book Catapult from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.. Then, another mile further is Hillcrest’s Bluestocking Books.
After work on Monday, pop into Clairemont Mesa’s Mysterious Galaxy, the best genre bookstore you’ll ever find in a strip mall. And that’s a wrap: nine indie bookstores, lots of books, cute swag and all the bragging rights.