The $100,000 worth of news Beck Center for the Arts got from the City of Lakewood Thursday will help the organization’s long-term prospects, but does little to alleviate the Beck’s short-term cash flow problem. This prompted CEO Cindy Einhouse to announce, on March 31, that the center needed to raise $150,000 or face the possibility of closure at the end of April. The announcement came the same day the organization was late in meeting its payroll. Foundation and individual giving was both lagging at a perennially difficult time of year for the center’s finances of an organization with a $2.3 million annual operating budget and no endowment.
The $100,000 news comes in two pieces. The first is $55,000 worth of federal stimulus money targeted at energy efficiency. Beck can’t use it for operating costs, like payroll, but it will help deal with inefficiencies that go with their aging physical plant, which includes four buildings and something 17 different heating systems. But as far as covering that $150,000 short-term cash need, don’t look here.
The remaining $45,000 is a little bit like that money you used to have in the stock market — out of sight, out of mind, and vanishing — except that in the Beck’s case it was debt, rather than money in the bank. The center had loans from the city totaling $45,000, and the city forgave them. The reason this doesn’t matter to the center’s cash flow situation is that they weren’t paying on the debt anyway, and no one expected them to. (The obligation had been renegotiated in 2000 with payments deferred until 2010, which sounds like they were living in fear of a big payment due next year. But in fact the Beck was expecting to renegotiate the debt again, Einhouse said, and the city had never budgeted for the receipt of payment, according to Mayor Ed Fitzgerald.)
But shuffling obligations, Einhouse says, will make Beck’s balance sheets look better for other potential donors. The organization will go back to foundations and other donors with the news, hoping the confidence that builds will inspire further donations to cover the still-unmet $87,000 need from the $150,000 announced earlier.
In exchange for the investment, the city gets to use the facility for some public events, and much more significantly, gets three seats on the organization’s board of trustees. This is the first time in the organization’s history that it’s had official municipal representation on its board of trustees. Artistic Director Scott Spence said the city’s board presence is not likely to have an impact on programming choices.
So in brief: The biggest arts organization on the West Side and one of the region’s most innovative theater programs got some good news but is still very far from out of the woods. They’re still looking for donations to keep operating and carry them into the summer, which is financially an easier time of the year for them because of income from summer arts class tuitions and ticket sales for big musicals — in this case, a studio theatre production of the cult movie Evil Dead (opening May 8) and a main stage production of the musical about the man-eating plant, Little Shop of Horrors, opening June 26. — Michael Gill