Fresh palette of events sustaining Fine Arts Center

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The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is painting a vibrant economic picture.

While other nonprofits have struggled during the financial downturn, for the third consecutive year the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has surpassed its own revenue record, even while paying down major debt.

FAC officials attribute the increase in revenue to vigorous grant writing and a new director of development, Thomas Jackson, who joined the FAC in November.

Since Sam Gappmayer took over as CEO in late 2008, the center has added programs and hosted new venues — such as this week’s mayoral candidate forum for business leaders, Gov. Hickenlooper’s speech in November, and last spring’s Arlo Guthrie concert in the park — and the community has responded favorably to the changes.

It doesn’t hurt matters that the Colorado Springs metropolitan statistical area surpasses the nation in dollars spent on the arts.

Nationally, the average attendee spends $27.79 to attend an event, not including the ticket price. Locally, that number is $40.90, according to a 2006 study sponsored by COPPeR, the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. and the Bee Vradenberg Foundation.

The Fine Arts Center — which is listed on the National Register for Historical Places and is accredited by the American Association of Museums — receives most of its funding from individual donations, foundations and corporations. In 2009, the nonprofit realized it needed to focus more on grant writing and proposals to bolster its $3.8 million operating budget.

So it did.

In the past two years, FAC has received 30 grants totaling nearly $575,000. In fiscal 2010 alone, the organization received 17 grants totaling nearly $376,000. Both are records for the past decade.

These grants have allowed the FAC to extend its Tuesday hours of public free days to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. More than 350 people attend the galleries, without charge, each month. Also, the center was able to add a free family adventure day each month. This includes demonstrations by artists at Bemis School of Art, which is part of FAC, and allows children to create their own art, using FAC exhibitions as inspiration.

In addition, the FAC’s SaGaJi Theatre is breaking records. The first two shows this season — “An Ideal Husband” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” — set all-time attendance records. The first was the highest-attended non-musical play for the theater, and the latter was the company’s best-selling musical with more than 7,000 tickets issued.

FAC’s record-breaking season coincides with its 75 anniversary. To commemorate the milestone, the theater will host the Martha Graham Dance Company on April 19 — an apropos choice because Martha Graham herself performed on the same stage during the FAC’s inaugural year in 1936.

Subscriptions for the season also hit record numbers with more than 2,000 subscribers and more than $200,000 in subscription revenue.

As for further development, Jackson’s goals are to get as many people involved in supporting the FAC as possible. Strategically, that includes targeting the corporate world, introducing the right corporations to the right opportunities, he said.

He wants to grow the center’s planned-giving program by making more people aware of the benefits and strategies of legacy-giving and estate planning.

For instance, the Martha Graham’s company performance this spring is being underwritten by Oklahoma-based Inasmuch Foundation, which was founded in 1982 by Edith Kinney Gaylord, who lived in Colorado Springs.

“It was a perfect match for them,” Jackson said. “By and large, there’s a lot of gratification involved (when people support the arts). “Those kinds of gifts come from having long-term relationships with people who get comfortable with our organization.”

Gappmayer agrees.

“Tom’s made a deep contribution in a short amount of time,” he said.