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City Gives Boost to Foundry Art Centre

A $65,000 grant will allow the seven-year-old institution to create a new development position.

Thanks to a grant from the city, the is looking to fill a new development and marketing position in an effort to stabilize its financial picture.

“We’ve put a call out on several job sites asking people to submit applications, résumés and writing samples,” said executive director Laura Helling, who runs the local space for artists. “That process is still ongoing.”

The position, which will deal with everything from fundraising to event planning to building foundation support, is part of an campaign by the organization to combat annual shortfalls of about $60,000 in its $500,000 budget. In December, the City Council decided to infuse $65,000 into the centre to create the new position.

Most of the money will go toward the full-time position itself, though about $15,000 will fund other development-related logistical needs such as computer software, Helling said. Though it’s a one-year contract job, she believes it could extend beyond that if extra revenue is generated making a salaried spot a realistic possibility.

Although the position will have a wide variety of duties, Helling said the main concentration would be on bolstering donor lists and creating community partnerships, something that’s been a big focus of the board.

“The person who has this position will be a relationship builder more than anything else,” she said. “There are a lot of really wonderful people who have been very supportive of the foundry these past seven years, and we know that there are more people who will want to support us, especially now that we are moving in new directions.”

Those directions include the building of a concert series and other new programming, which could benefit from sponsorship in the community.

“We have a good, strong, powerful, directed board right now,” she said. “The direction of the foundry is probably clearer than it ever has been in the past. I think this person will have really good direction and support behind them.”

Helling said the centre’s recent financial woes have been worsened by a bad economy in which entertainment and culture often take a backseat to necessities as family budgets shrink, eliminating art shows and extracurricular classes. Meanwhile, donors have been harder to come by, as they find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

Still, she said initial figures from this year as well as $50,000 brought in by a challenge grant late last year have made her optimistic.

“I think we’re seeing that people are turning a corner as far as that’s concerned,” Helling said. “I think people are also seeing that they need the things that we offer.”

In November, Foundry Art Centre asked the city for assistance in one of three ways. The other two focused funding packages on assistance with short-term operational or utility costs.

Helling, herself a resident of St. Charles since the 1970s, said the council made the best choice. She believes the centre will eventually reach self-sufficiency.

“What they chose to do was one of the smartest things they could do,” she said. “They gave us the tools to build on this, so we aren’t going to have this problem in the future.”

Ward 2 Councilman Larry Muench said the idea, which passed unanimously, drew wide support due to confidence in the centre’s board and leadership. He also believe the organization can break even.

“The biggest problem they are having is just paying the utilities,” he said. “It’s just so expensive because it’s such a big building.”

Muench said the money was a good investment for St. Charles and believes the centre, which is housed in a spacious city-owned structure on Clark St. at N. Main, provides both an opportunity for further development and an alternative for those who don’t want to travel all the way to St. Louis for attractions such as the art museum.

“It’s nice to have a little bit of that culture here in our city,” he said. “Plus, it takes a building that was once deteriorating and makes it an anchor piece for the whole complex. Who knows what may happen there someday?”

The institution has already made some changes to stimulate revenue. Last year, it revamped its fee structure for wedding rentals, both increasing it by 25 percent and converting to a flat rate that included extras such as lighting, which had previously involved separate charges.

Helling said that although she didn’t have a precise breakdown of income sources, rentals for nuptials as well as corporate events and holiday parties have been a big moneymaker.

“That’s one of our strongest revenue streams, and I think the reason is that this is a very unique facility,” she said. “When people rent it, they not only can have an event here, but they can have their guests walking through all the galleries. They kind of have a private art show all their own.”

Helling said initial funding for the centre after its 2004 opening was ample, including everything from sponsorship of named rooms from various corporate donors to a federal grant totaling $750,000.

Since the 2008 crash, money has been harder to come by. Still, she’s upbeat.

“Despite some of the economic issues, we’ve been very lucky,” she said. “We’re still here. There are a lot of groups that aren’t.”

Roxann Elder, 20, is glad they’re still there. The St. Peters resident didn’t let a chilly evening spoil her chance to take in some art at the centre.

“It gives artists a way to show off their work,” she said while touring the gallery, “especially local artists.”

Across the hall, St. Charles resident Holly Potthoff waits for her two oldest children to finish an acting class. She said she’s happy to see money supporting a facility only blocks from her home.

“Having the arts here in town is extremely important to me,” said the Potthoff, a drama teacher in the Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District. “It’s here locally. It’s down the street from my house, and we love it.”

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