Last year ZFG’s pop-up event “The Most Open Mic In The City” takes over outside Art Hotel. ZFG has multiple Art Street activations. (Photos courtesy of ZFG Promotions)

For M5 Arts, Big Buzz Isn’t Translating into Big Bucks

Art Hotel drew thousands of people, but Art Street is struggling to raise thousands in donations — why aren’t businesses helping out?

Back Web Only Feb 3, 2017 By Vanessa Richardson

What’s the main difference between the Art Hotel installation, held at the Marshall Hotel a year ago, and Art Street, opening Feb. 3 in a former lumber mill near Broadway and 1st Avenue? The viewing experience, says Clay Nutting, the restaurateur behind Lowbrau and the soon-to-open Canon, who is also a co-founder of M5 Arts, the group in charge of both exhibits.

Art Street

When:

First come, first served. 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Fridays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Feb. 3 – Feb. 25.

Where:

300 1st Ave. Sacramento

Cost:

Free; donations accepted

Info:

www.m5arts.com

“Art Hotel was about getting in and out, due to limits on building capacity,” Nutting says. “It was a manic scramble, a visual overload and you had to hustle through it. With Art Street, we’re encouraging people to linger and take more in. The building is so cavernous, the installations are larger scale and have been designed so you can meander through the space, with more time and room to wander around.”

But with the luxury of 65,000 square feet of space to fill comes the need for a bigger budget. At Art Hotel, each of the 130 artists only got a $150 stipend, while Art Street’s 100 artists will each get a minimum of $500. M5 Arts built most of the facades and contributed materials to its artists. And of course, there’s the cost of outdoor toilets, security, meeting city fire and safety regulations. The total budget is expected to hover around $130,000. But like Art Hotel, admission is free. 

M5 Arts, whose fiscal sponsor is the nonprofit DBA Arts, is relying solely on donations. M5 Arts spokesman Scott Eggert says the group has met 85 percent of its budget, and plans to get the rest through more fundraising and revenue generation during Art Street’s three-week stretch of on-site donations, food and alcohol sales, and special tours.

Because Art Hotel got so much buzz, with 13,000 visitors during its 10-day lifespan (and an estimated 5,000 turned away at the door), you’d think it would be easier to fundraise from philanthropists and companies the second time, right? Not necessarily, says Nutting. “It received a lot of attention, but it’s not any easier.”

Some companies M5 Arts reached out to either don’t have a category for the type of funding Art Street needs, or categorically dismissed it as an outlier. “Projects like these fall outside the traditional funding parameters because they’re temporary structures, not permanent,” Nutting says. “And because they’re such rapid prototypes, the reply is, ‘Well, our budgeting process is only open at certain times, and we plan funding a year in advance.’”

That needs to change, he says. “We need to build a capacity for support projects that fall beyond the parameters of the standard giving process, because they are important for the well-being of our business community. Arts and culture have proven time and again to be what people are looking for when they evaluate a place to work and live.”

M5 Arts has ramped up both its technological and personal efforts to woo donors. It raised $18,000 in a Kickstarter campaign for artist stipends and materials. While most of Sacramento’s big business names aren’t writing checks, M5 Arts is bartering with some of them. Habitat for Humanity helped with construction. The Crocker Art Museum had Art Street volunteers go through its docent training, and will help with marketing and event programming. The Sacramento Kings will have one of its players walk through Art Street, create video and media about the visit, and promote it during a game and social media.

But to get the big dollars, M5 focused on cultivating current relationships and developing new ones with wealthy art patrons who typically contribute to the Crocker and Sacramento Ballet. The ones who’ve donated are typically those who went to Art Hotel and loved it.

Cecily Hastings, owner of Inside Publications, which publishes monthly local newspapers for Sacramento neighborhoods, is one of those patrons. She’s a member of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, but, like most people, she didn’t hear about Art Hotel until it was about to open. She took her stepdaughter and 80-year-old husband, neither who are big art fans, up and down the five-story building, and they all left with a smile. “We enjoyed it for different reasons and on different levels, so I said to myself that if they do this again, I wanted to support that,” Hastings says.  

Hastings donated $5,000, the largest single donation she’s ever made, and to encourage donations coming from others, she will bring other non-art fans with her to Art Street. “A lot of people I invited would never go on their own, but then they go and will talk about it with someone else,” she says. “It’s my personal outreach mission: connecting people to things they wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to.”

Other core sponsorships for Art Street come from Bogle Wines, Greater Broadway District, VSP (Jay Sales, director of its innovation lab, The Shop, has been a big booster of M5 Arts, and got VSP contributing to Art Hotel) and arts-lover Asher Styrsky of Farmers Insurance. But the biggest contributor so far is the public sector: The City of Sacramento donated $25,000 via its Innovation & Growth Fund, which will allot $500,000 to help boost arts programs.

It’s not surprising to Sales, of VSP, that Sacramento businesses haven’t risen up to fully embrace Art Street, but he says slow progress is still good progress. “Investing in an experience and a movement is a lot less tangible to understand,” he says. “They can’t point to anything concrete that is still standing five years down the road. But Art Street and Art Hotel are part of the urban legend. More people will tell you where they were during Art Hotel, how long they stood in line, how they experienced it. To invest in that moment, which I call the mythology of Sacramento’s art scene, it’s not easy to understand. But it is coming along big time.”

Considering that Art Hotel turned thousands of people onto Sacramento’s often under-the-radar arts scene, M5 Arts is still puzzled about why fundraising the second time around is still hard. “We’re appreciative of the support, but considering what was accomplished last year, it would be great to see more of it,” Nutting says. “We have a proven track record, but we’re still scratching and clawing. If these types of events are thing we want to see more of, we have to build within our organizations and our civic giving abilities to be responsive to these types of things, even if they don’t always fit within the typical box.”

Update: M5 Arts spokesman Scott Eggert says that since his interview with Comstock’s, the organization has received donations from SMUD and Verizon, each significantly higher than any other corporate sponsorship, aside from the City of Sacramento.

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The Art Hotel exhibit in Sacramento attracted nearly 13,000 attendees. (Photo courtesy Jon Kramp)

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Jun 22, 2016 Vanessa Richardson