News Column

On Q Performing Arts gets $105,000 grant for upcoming seasons

July 16, 2014

By Samantha Sabin, The Charlotte Observer



July 16--The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded the performing arts group a $105,000 grant for the company's next two seasons -- the largest grant the company has received, said Valaida Fullwood, board chair of On Q. The grant will fund a total of six performances in the company's 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

"It helps us stabilize and gives us more of an anchor here," said Quentin Talley, founder and executive artistic director of On Q. "(Our finances have) always been kind of shaky."

As a young, small theater group in Charlotte, the company has seen its share of problems in recent years. In May 2013, On Q canceled Lynn Nottage's "Ruined" because of lack of money. At the time, most of the company's revenue came from ticket sales.

And at the time, Talley had been in Minneapolis as a part of a fellowship he had received from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

Now Talley is back, and the board is more stable. The two are focusing on new fundraising strategies for the upcoming seasons. The budget for season four in 2012-2013 was $70,000. The budget for season six, the upcoming season, will be $120,000. Ticket sales make up 25 percent of their projected revenue for the upcoming season.

Talley and Fullwood also expect to continue their partnership with Blumenthal Performing Arts.

Fullwood said she and the board have revamped fundraising strategies. She wants to see more individual donations and corporate sponsorships. The Knight Foundation grant is only the start, she says.

"Often times we're involved with other organizations to put on shows, and sometimes there's a presumption of 'Oh, they're set for the season,' when people see the shows," Fullwood said. "This is really just a base of support. We really need a broader base."

Local challenges

This refocusing is more important now, as other local theater companies struggle to attract more donations and sponsorships. Carolina Actors Studio Theatre closed in June because of shrinking audiences and a lack of fund-raising. They, too, over-relied on ticket revenue.

The On Q board is looking at fund-raising campaigns like the ones through National Public Radio and public television stations, which state how they are funded. Fullwood said part of the problem is that many audience members believe ticket revenue is all theater companies need to sustain themselves, so they tend to not donate.

"If we have a strong base of Charlotteans who support us, we can rely on that and that would be remarkable," she said.

"This award provides them an opportunity to sustain operations over a two-year period," said Ryan Deal, Arts & Science Council associate vice president. "It allows them to take the time to put their brain power together and cultivate an individual donor base."

Dennis Scholl, Knight Foundation vice president of arts, said arts organizations require a variety of funding sources to remain operational.

"You can't scale up without the financial underpinning to support," Scholl said. "This grant will give them a baseline amount."

Moving forward

Talley might not be in Charlotte as much as he would like in the fall: The spoken word poet is releasing a new mix tape in August and is hoping to go on a tour of Europe.

He takes every career-advancing opportunity that he can -- whether it's a residency in San Diego or a spoken word event in Charlotte. Talley isn't always around to support On Q, and this is why Fullwood hopes this grant propels On Q beyond something that's just about Talley.

"I hope increasingly that the public sees On Q as more than just Quentin Talley," Fullwood said. "Since it's blossomed even more, we have even more focus on our ensemble members, a whole host of production members -- the lighting people, the musicians, the dancers -- that make it On Q."

Talley sees the group growing -- both locally and nationally. The company has produced original plays, and its first original production, "Miles and Coltrane: Blues," has traveled throughout the U.S.

"I see us still going and traveling and growing. Hopefully, you know, off-Broadway, Broadway," he said.

While Talley has been in Charlotte for most of the past year, he just completed the Andrew Mellon Foundation One-on-One fellowship. He spent 18 months with Penumbra Theatre in Minneapolis, as the protÉgÉ of artistic director Lou Bellamy, and this put a strain on On Q fundraising.

Fullwood doesn't see a problem with Talley's traveling spirit. She associates it with Charlotte Ballet's artistic director, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux. If he's invited to guest choreograph a show the dance company wouldn't fall apart without his presence, she says. It would continue to strive and grow, she said. The same goes for On Q.

"And On Q is at a place where that's OK," Fullwood said. "For the next two seasons, I hope people get to see that. Sometimes people are fixed on him, but we've grown."

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(c)2014 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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