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OAC awards $46K to local arts groups

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Almost $13 per resident.

That’s how much Yellow Springs nonprofits were awarded from the Ohio Arts Council last month. Six local organizations came home with a combined $46,000 from the state arts agency, which annually funds artists and arts organizations across Ohio through a competitive application process. The Ohio Arts Council, or OAC, gave out a total of $12 million in grants to 635 individuals and organizations for the current fiscal year.

And while Yellow Springs’ share is a tiny piece of that large pie, it’s a substantial level of funding for a small town, according to OAC Public Affairs Director Justin Nigro.

“It’s unique for a smaller community to receive so much funding,” he said this week. “Yellow Springs stands out as a community that’s naturally creative, with so many wonderful arts organizations.”

In Greene County as a whole, 11 arts organizations received around $62,400 from the OAC. In that context, Yellow Springs’ success is all the more striking, representing nearly three-quarters of funding in the county.

This year’s local funding is about on par with last year’s, but more organizations have benefitted. Receiving grants this year are Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse, WYSO, The Antioch Review, World House Choir, Chamber Music Yellow Springs and John Bryan Community Pottery. Both WYSO and The Antioch Review are part of Antioch College.

Yellow Springs’ track record with the OAC is strong because of the skill and savvy of local nonprofit leaders, according to Ara Beal, managing artistic director of Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse, or YSKP.

“There are a lot of very experienced, very smart nonprofit people in this community,” she said. And success is contagious. “It’s something that spreads. People say, ‘Hey, we got an OAC grant,’” leading others to apply, she added.

This year’s list reflects a mix of veteran OAC grant recipients and newer awardees. Both YSKP and The Antioch Review have been receiving OAC funding for many years. YSKP received two grants totaling $16,816 this year, for general support and next summer’s original theater production. The Antioch Review received $8,457 in general support. 

These are modest portions of much larger budgets, about $100,000 in the case of YSKP and $160,000 in the case of The Antioch Review. But the funding is significant nonetheless, according to Review Editor Bob Fogarty.

“It makes a difference,” he said. “The OAC has been one of our consistent supporters over the years.” And general support, with few restrictions on use, is especially valuable, he added. The grant helps the magazine cover core operating expenses, such as printing and postage.

Beal said OAC support has helped YSKP build its programs over the years. Founded in 1995 by John Fleming as a summer theater experience for youth, YSKP has received OAC funding for about 20 years, expanding its programming and reach, according to Beal. Over half of the nonprofit’s annual budget comes from grants, with local funder Yellow Springs Community Foundation being a significant source. 

Two local musical organizations, World House Choir and Chamber Music Yellow Springs, have received OAC grants for several years. This year’s grant, in the amount of $3,920, is the third project grant World House Choir has received in as many years, according to Director Cathy Roma. The money will support the production of the choir’s upcoming fall concert, “Together We Bring on the Light,” featuring “vocal activist” Melanie DeMore of Oakland, Calif. OAC funding represents about a sixth of the four-year-old nonprofit’s budget, Roma said.

Chamber Music Yellow Springs, or CMYS, now entering its 34th season, has received general support from the OAC since 2013, according to board member Angela Brintlinger. This year’s grant of $3,651 is in line with previous years’, and will help pay for outreach to local schools, radio rebroadcasts on classical station WDPR and remuneration of participating artists. CMYS’s annual budget is around $40,000.

While OAC financial support is critical, so too is the recognition from a respected state arts agency, Brintlinger said. 

“It’s important to know we’re seen as a place for the arts,” she said of CMYS and Yellow Springs as a whole, a view echoed by other arts nonprofit leaders interviewed for this article.

Antioch College’s WYSO received an OAC grant of $11,984 this year for its popular program Dayton Youth Radio Project, coordinated by Yellow Springs resident Basim Blunt. That’s over a fourth of the program’s $40,000 annual budget, according to WYSO Director of Development Luke Dennis.

Dayton Youth Radio, which features personal stories told and produced by area youth, got its start in 2014, with seed money from the OAC. But this is the first year the station has formally applied for, and received, state arts funding for the show.

And while $12,000 is a tiny slice of the station’s $1.9 million annual budget, funded mostly by underwriting and membership, project support like the OAC’s has a disproportionate impact, Dennis said.

“Programming drives everything here,” he said. Programs draw listeners, and listeners sustain and grow the station, he explained. WYSO’s arts program, Culture Couch, is also supported by the OAC.

The sixth local group to receive OAC funds is a first-time recipient. John Bryan Community Pottery, or JBCP, is more than 40 years old, but became a nonprofit in 2015. This year, it applied for funds to support an expansion of its Clay Dogs program, a pottery and clay learning experience for a small group of local intensive-needs students. The program was funded, in the amount of $1,193.

“We’re very excited,” Jill Cox, a JBCP board member, said.

Clay Dogs began last year as a pilot program with six intensive-needs students from Jody Chick’s class at McKinney Middle/YSHS. Students learned to work with clay, and developed new confidence and social skills, according to Cox.

“They were just the best group of kids,” she said.

JBCP and the schools wanted to expand the program — now called Clay Dogs and Clay Pups — to include students from the fifth and sixth grade. This year’s program, an eight-week class that meets for two hours a week, will include up to six students from Mills Lawn and six from the middle and high school.

While arts funding is under attack at the federal level, with President Trump threatening to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, Ohio has continued to fund the arts through recent budget cycles, according to OAC spokesperson Nigro.

“At the state level, we enjoy strong, bipartisan support,” he said.

The most recent Ohio biennial budget appropriated about $29 million to the OAC over two years. The agency also received nearly $1 million in funding this year from the National Endowment for the Arts, or NEA. That’s the second highest level of state arts agency funding in the country, after California — a tribute to the vibrancy of the arts in Ohio, according to Nigro. All $1 million gets paid out in the form of grants.

And because the OAC grantmaking process is competitive, receiving a state grant is a significant achievement, especially given the 44 percent increase in applications the OAC saw this year.

“It takes a level of vision and programmatic quality to get a grant,” Nigro said. 

Yellow Springs arts nonprofits have those qualities in spades, according to YSKP Director Beal.

“The arts organizations here are pretty phenomenal,” she said.

This article has been corrected from its original print version, which cited a miscalculated figure for the amount of Ohio Arts Council funding per village resident. The per-resident amount is between $12 and $13, not almost $130 as erroneously stated.

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