One of the greatest challenges for a nonprofit is to deliver its mission while at the same time having the financial discipline to be sustainable for the long term. This is particularly challenging balance for nonprofit arts organizations.
For some reason, arts organizations have a tendency to occasionally lose focus on the need to create financial viability and that’s when these organizations typically get into trouble.
It has become increasingly apparent in recent posts on Facebook and conversations around the community that the board of the Numerica Performing Arts Center is having a difficult time finding common ground and balancing those priorities.
The PAC recently emerged from a highly creative phase driven by the charisma of retired executive director Matt Cadman who helped expand the vision of the theater beyond its previous vision of being just a place to see shows to one of fostering a sense of community. I commend Matt for that vision.
At the same time, the organization is now wrestling with some financial challenges that require the board to take a fresh look at what the organization is doing. The PAC needs to become sustainable financially and a change of leadership is the perfect time to reevaluate the operation.
The just completed PAC season ended up with a $130,000 loss, which was an improvement over previous years when the loss was running about $200,000. Then, there was a $30,000 embezzlement from the PAC because of lax oversight.
Clearly, financial controls must be improved. The hard truth is that nonprofits like the PAC must have enough profit to salt money away to replace equipment and upgrade facilities.
At the risk of offending my friends in the arts community, it is my experience that not nearly enough of them have an appreciation for the need for financial viability.
Change is hard, as we all know. But every organization, for-purpose or nonprofit alike, must continually evaluate every aspect of its operations and serve its mission. Being as effective as possible and financially prudent is a sacred obligation to donors and all who depend on the organization.
Many organizations are deeply connected to the PAC, such as Mission Creek Players, the Wenatchee Valley Symphony, Stage Kids and a host of others. The PAC has to be operated so that it continues to be an asset in the community to showcase their programs.
I am glad the PAC board is taking a hard look at its operations (including staffing, salaries and contracts) so conscious decisions can being made about every aspect of the operation.
The current financial challenge can be fixed, and financial sustainability can be achieved with higher level of discipline.
There have been some pretty divisive posts put out by folks within arts organizations in the community recently targeting the PAC board of directors and favoring the status quo.
At the same time, I fault the PAC board for doing a poor job of communicating its priorities and the state of the organization to donors and the community. Perhaps mediated conversations need to take place to calm the nerves and get the ugliness off of Facebook and into a meaningful dialogue.
At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the PAC board to take the actions necessary to ensure the long-term financial viability of the organization. This is difficult and it is also essential.
While the board at the PAC sorts out this situation, I encourage people in the community and in the arts organizations affected to take a deep breath and recognize that the PAC board must make changes in its operation.
The Matt Cadman era delivered enthusiasm and increased support for the PAC in the community. Now the hard work begins to put the theater on a better financial footing.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-665-1162.