In the Community

New Ideas and Vision Launch the Arts Alliance

Until recently, receiving grants for Mosaic Steel Orchestra was how Dr. Anthony Hailey, its president and CEO, connected with the Business Consortium for Arts Support. Over 35 years, BCAS has awarded more than $25 million to 71 South Hampton Roads arts and cultural organizations, including the steelpan orchestra Hailey founded in 2008.

But as BCAS morphed into the Arts Alliance in 2022, Hailey discovered the Alliance’s new Wills for the Arts program. It linked him with an attorney who created a will, power of attorney, and advanced health directive for free. Hailey is among 72 area arts employees benefitting from the Alliance’s wills program.

“It feels good to have this level of security in place,” Hailey said. “When running arts organizations, we often don’t look out for ourselves as we pour everything into our work.” Hailey teaches steel drums annually to 500 students ranging in age from 9 to 81 and leads public concerts with a Caribbean flair.

The Alliance, which this year awarded $663,000 to 33 organizations, sees new programs as a way to help grow financial support for cultural groups. Within five years, “we want to give $1 million in grants annually,” said Lisa Wigginton, the Alliance’s executive director, who joined the BCAS in 2008.

That goal requires attracting donors through “new ideas and vision,” said attorney Lewis Webb III, Alliance Advisory Council chair and Kaufman & Canoles attorney. He believes the Alliance must expand beyond its traditional role of taking in corporate and foundation money and giving it out as arts grants. With corporate mergers and departures, “we hit a fundraising plateau,” Webb said.

Webb envisions the reinvigorated Alliance gaining momentum by sponsoring the first Americans for the Arts economic impact study in the region and starting an Arts 100 patron group. The Arts 100 group consists of individuals and couples who are arts lovers and work together on arts projects.

Wigginton, who previously worked for Virginia Stage Company and other arts groups, is “excited about the services we provide arts employees to help them and their families,” such as Wills for the Arts and financial planning workshops.
“We are converting to an ideas and advocacy organization that also fundraises for the arts,” Webb explained. “Forty arts advocacy groups around the country have already made this conversion.”

Studying organizations in Louisville and other cities while listening to area arts leaders inspired the Alliance’s new name and mission: “to foster a strong, vibrant, and inclusive community through arts leadership, advocacy, services, and support.”

Robert Cross, Virginia Arts Festival executive director, said the BCAS “was instrumental in the festival getting off the ground in 1995 and its support grew as
the festival grew.” He is among arts leaders providing input helping shape the Alliance and believes its expanded focus will help “smaller arts groups and also larger ones like ours and Virginia Symphony,” where he is principal percussionist.

Decades ago, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation studied united arts funds around the country before recruiting 12 area foundations and businesses like Webb’s law firm to launch the BCAS in 1987. Since then, corporate and foundation members have pooled donations annually to provide critical operating support to South Hampton Roads arts groups. Over the past 35 years, the community foundation has awarded the BCAS (now Alliance) more than $13 million so it can help arts and cultural groups thrive.

For arts groups, “it is a challenge raising operating money,” Hailey said. Before the curtain goes up or art exhibits open, organizations must pay employees, buy insurance, build sets, and cover a multitude of expenses.

As she looks to the future, Wigginton is “grateful the community foundation helped start the BCAS 35 years ago and that it supports our change into the Alliance.”

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