Art Center eyes improved financial path
Brian Austin says the Rochester Art Center is seeing financial improvements.
"We are still on a path, however, toward a sustainable model," the center’s executive director told members of the Rochester City Council’s Outside Agency Oversight Committee on Monday.
Joan Weber, the Art Center’s treasurer and finance chairwoman, said the center has seen estimated net revenue of about $24,000 during the first seven months of the year, after current numbers are adjusted for depreciation.
That’s compared to an overall loss of about $134,000 last year.
"It’s a big difference, a big turnaround," she said. "But I also would point out that the Art Center, like many other organizations, really lives off the cashflow."
Weber said positive cash flow is about $40,000, which comes after the center required a funding advance from the city last year.
Art Center Board President Tracy Austin credited a new facility-operations agreement with the Mayo Civic Center for helping improve the Art Center’s outlook.
"The building is being run so much better," she said, noting Civic Center staff has provided needed expertise, leaving Art Center staff to focus of other things.
She said similar agreements with other entities are being considered for other services, such as catering and event planning, to streamline efforts for the center’s board and staff.
"The board wants to concentrate on art," she said, also noting hosting outside events provides revenue needed for the core mission but could be done by contracting some services.
Austin said much of the ongoing effort revolves around creating and building partnerships, pointing to recent work with Mayo Clinic, which helped bring the "Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code" exhibit to the center.
He said the project brought revenue to the Art Center by providing payment for hosting fees and increasing visitor and member numbers.
"Partnerships are always things people talk about," he said. "This is one where time and money were spent."
Noting the importance of the Mayo Clinic relationship, as well as the $350,000 in support the center is budgeted to receive from the city this year, Austin said efforts to find new opportunities continue.
Council Member Nick Campion, who serves on the oversight committee with Council President Randy Staver and Council Member Ed Hruska, said he appreciated the ongoing goal of finding new opportunities to free up center resources and build partnerships
At the same time, he repeated a challenge he issued during a similar review of the Rochester Civic Theatre’s financial report last month. He encouraged the Art Center board to keep working to improve as if it’s still running a deficit.
The center has seen annual deficits since at least 2013, when it reported a $206,277 loss, followed by a $190,778 deficit in 2014. According to financial reports filed with the Minnesota Attorney General’s office, the center lost $279,099 on a $1.1 million budget in 2015.
The center took action last year by reducing staffing and other expenses, which took the budget from $1.27 million in 2016 to $1 million last year.
With the reduction, a $134,725 deficit still was reported in 2017, which was less than the $222,577 loss seen in 2016.
With the possibility of seeing the year end in the black, Campion said time is needed to confirm the efforts.
"Let’s give it a few more years, and let’s make sure all these changes are sticking," he said.