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Greater Hartford Arts Council Funding Campaign Stresses Strong Links Between Arts And Wellness

FRANK RIZZO

February 07, 2010

Kate Bolduc thinks a new way to keep the arts healthy is through health literally.

The CEO of the Greater Hartford Arts Council is promoting a new arts strategy that she hopes will deepen a connection to the arts and create new funding opportunities.

This new drive is meant to hit home with a holistic message that the arts are an integral part of a community's health: in mind, body and spirit.

It's the theme of the 39th annual United Arts Campaign that was launched last week and is raising money for more than 150 arts, culture and heritage organizations in 34 towns throughout Hartford County.

The new goal is $4million, a tad higher than the $3.95 million raised last year, but less than the original 2009 target of $4.2 million. Brian MacLean, president of Travelers, is chairman of the 2010 campaign.

The dollars are harder than ever to come by, Bolduc says. With increased corporate mergers and acquisitions and CEOs and headquarters not only moving out of state but out of the country, "there's less and less involvement with the C-suite executives at the community level," she says, referring to CEOs, CFOs and CMOs. "When a senior executive actually lives in the community, it makes a huge difference on where those corporate philanthropic dollars are going.

So it's more important than ever to make the strongest case for the arts' relevance to the community.

"The arts have made a good argument that they help in economic development and are important in education," Bolduc says. But she says the arts also have an important role in health care, from preventive care to helping with healing and "to end-stage quality of life because people are living longer."

For Bolduc, this strategy change can resonate with insurance, pharmaceutical and other businesses in the medical fields, especially when it comes time for giving.

"They're looking for an alignment with their businesses," she says. "If your business is in health care, it's going to be a major part of your foundation giving because it is part of who you are.

"It's also clear to me that we haven't tapped into the most federal dollars that are available," she says.

Bolduc is already laying the groundwork for her strategy, gathering data and formulating a plan with such places as St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, which has just launched an integrated medical unit that includes art and music therapy.

But won't such efforts take away from what arts and cultural groups do?

"I don't think it's meant to take away from the core purpose of arts organizations," she says. "I think it is more to educate people to the broader impact of the arts, especially in this type of economy. There's a bit of a stereotype that the arts are for the privileged or for entertainment. But the arts are an integral part of society and need to be viewed as a necessity in a holistically healthy community. It's for everybody, and it can touch all parts of out lives."

Private To Public Sector

"Coming from 25 years in the corporate world, [the arts council] was a major culture change for me," says Bolduc, 47, who was executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Travelers companies and vice chairwoman of the Travelers Foundation before taking over the arts post from Kenneth Kahn last May.

"It's so often about simple resources," says Bolduc, who lives in South Windsor and has a master's degree in economics from Hartford's Trinity College. "When there's a technology question, an HR question, a legal issue, legislature question, it's not as easy as picking up the phone and getting the legal department. This is more like running a small business because you own it."

That has made her even more sensitive to the best use of the limited resources that exist for her group and the arts, cultural and heritage groups the council funds.

Another mission she has for the council is to get various groups to act together, not just in a programmatic way, but "nuts and bolts."

Bolduc recognizes there is always the fear of losing one's identity when various groups are urged to combine resources, so she is careful to avoid the word "merger, because it sends shivers down people's spines."

"But I wonder what some organizations that we no longer have would say [about joint efforts] now," she says, pointing to the defunct Connecticut Opera and Hartford Ballet.

Pooling in areas such as marketing, IT, bookkeeping, ticketing and other areas could open up funds for the art itself, she says. And something as simple as seeking bids on property and casualty insurance and IT contracts can result in significant savings. "Sometimes arts groups have an ongoing relationship and it works, so you keep moving along, but in my background there's constant evaluation [to] see if we're getting the best value for the dollar." She says the arts council itself was able to save 50 percent by putting its insurance up for bids.

Bolduc says, "There will be sustainable arts funding for some programming and services that are traditionally provided. But many arts organizations are going to have to look very seriously about how to strategically collaborate with one another to reduce their overall expenses."

Landlords No More

Besides this new strategic push in the area of health, promoting economically friendly collaborations and working on an arts education plan for the Hartford schools, the council is trying to sell the former Hartford Courant Arts Center on Farmington Avenue, once the home of the Hartford Ballet, Connecticut Opera and Hartford Symphony Orchestra (the HSO has moved to Pratt street downtown). The council received a high, six-figure offer from a not-for-profit organization but it is restricted in the contract Aetna created when it deeded the property and building to the arts council; it can be sold only to another not-for-profit arts organization.

The deteriorating property is a drain on the arts council. An effort in December to find an not-for-profit arts buyer or an amalgam of renters was unsuccessful.

The arts council is negotiating to sell the building back to Aetna, but it is not known if Aetna will give the council the price it otherwise could receive without the contract restriction.

A six-figure sale could greatly help the arts agency, says Bolduc, whose other goal is to right its fiscal year (it now grants funds before it knows how much money it will raise), increase the pool of money for unrestricted operating support and create a reserve.

Bolduc also says the council's 10-year lease for its office and welcome center on Pratt Street in downtown Hartford expires in October and that it's looking to move into a cheaper space.

"I would like to remain where we are, but I'm not sure that's feasible because we haven't been able to negotiate a price we're looking for," she says. "Paying rent for my organization is not the best use for our dollars."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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