arts, local, nonprofit profile

Local Nonprofit Profile: Pianos for People

This young man is Royce Martin. Please allow him to create an inspirational soundtrack to the next 4 minutes of your reading life.

Royce began playing piano only a few years before that performance. He wrote that piece. He has won competitions already after only a short time playing. He may very well be a prodigy.

And he got started thanks to a donated instrument from Pianos for People. This fairly new nonprofit supplies pianos to needy individuals in St. Louis. They began in 2012 and have recently passed the mark of delivering 200 pianos. Thus they’ve already made a dent in the needs of the community, but there is much more yet to do.

 

Overview

Pianos for People collects and restores (as necessary) pianos in reasonably good working order. From there, they donate these pianos to needy individuals or families in the area. Pianos for People works on the principle that playing music changes lives – it gives hope, it soothes the soul, it allows for creative outlet, it teaches discipline and focus.

You can read the history of the organization here. I won’t go into that with this profile. I will touch on some positives and negatives, and give some challenges and opportunities.

 

What I Like About Pianos for People

This organization serves a need people likely didn’t know they had. Most people can identify that they’re hungry, cold, or sick. Or that they don’t have adequate transportation, education, or social skills. There are hundreds of organizations around the country to help them meet those needs.

Not many know that they are missing music in their life. But, when that opportunity comes to connect with the harmonies of this world, if there are barriers in the way, many will let those chances slip through their fingers.

Pianos for People works to change that. They give pianos away because it allows people to meet that burning desire inside of them. A desire they may not have been able to identify, but was still holding them back through non-expression nonetheless.

They give away pianos. They give away lessons. But more than that, they give connection to the community. They bring together people who need pianos with pianos that need people. That’s a great line. But it’s theirs, I can’t take credit for it.

 

Challenges Ahead

Currently Pianos for People is still growing. They’ve delivered the 200th piano this year, but there is more need. As evidenced by this statement on their website:  “We sincerely apologize, but applications for a piano are presently closed as we have reached our capacity for 2018. We will begin accepting applications in September 2018 for 2019 delivery.”

So there are clearly people who want a piano, but capacity within the organization is lacking to make those dreams come true. This is likely due to a combination of factors: not enough pianos donated, not enough restoration time available, not enough administrative capacity, etc. Each of these can be handled in time, and with money, which suggests that there is a lot of growing yet to come.

Another challenge is the relative newness and obscurity of the organization. With traditional charities like the United Way or American Cancer Society, there’s a big, recognizable name associated. This makes fundraising, volunteer recruitment, and community interaction much easier. Pianos for People will need to expand their reach (in a responsible way) in order to make a bigger name for themselves and reach more people

This is evident by looking at a few nonprofit review websites. Charity Navigator and Guidestar, which provide ratings of the administrative efficiency and fundraising efficiency of nonprofits, have virtually empty profiles. And Great Nonprofits, where users or clients of an organization can make a review, has nothing. Again, these are likely due to the fact that Pianos for People is a fairly small, fairly new organization. In order to create greater credibility, leading to greater impact, leading to greater change in the community, they’ll have to be intentional about creating a positive public profile. The good thing is that as they start basically from scratch they can craft that image how they wish.

 

Opportunities

Obviously there is an ongoing need within the St. Louis community for the instruments and lessons provided. In addition, I think that greater expansion throughout the region would be a big boon to the validity of the organization. And it would greatly increase the potential donor pool, not just for cash and grants but for pianos as well.

Second, I would not be surprised to see Pianos for People expand to more instruments, not just the piano. A piano is large, intricate, delicate, and, frankly, a lot to maintain. I suspect that in a few years there will also be a market for accepting, restoring, and giving away other instruments, such as trumpets, violins, flutes, drums, etc. These may be more accessible to people who don’t have the floor space for piano. Or for those who do want to experience the transformation that comes through playing music but don’t have an inclination to play piano. Or even an opportunity for those who are just out of a piano delivery area yet may be able to accept an alternative instrument.

 

Conclusion

I think Pianos for People has a good thing going. They’re small, but they have incredible opportunity to meet unspoken, unmet needs in this community and around the country. Better still, around the world. I think they’re on the edge of something great. Stay tuned, it’s about to get very interesting on Cherokee Street.

 

 

arts, nonprofit profile, regional

Nonprofit Profile – Mid-America Arts Alliance

Summary

 The Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) is a regional arts council based in Kansas City. The M-AAA supplies grant funding, professional development, and other support to the arts throughout a 6-state region: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. With an annual budget around $4.1 million, it served over 1,500 artists and impacted over 467,000 individuals in 2017.

 

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More Art for More People

 

What the M-AAA does

 There are four main areas of program expenses for the M-AAA: grants, exhibitions, professional development, and artist business development.

Grants            The M-AAA provides grants through two avenues: directly to artists via Artistic Innovations, and to organizations presenting public events through the Regional Touring Program. Details are too much for this space, please do check out their web page.

 Exhibitions                In partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the M-AAA presents touring exhibits across the country. These can be seen from Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas, where the M-AAA traditionally supports, all the way to Maine, Florida, Alaska, and Arizona. These truly do have national reach.

And the M-AAA also combines resources with ExhibitsUSA to bring varied exhibitions to varied audiences. They can cover subjects ranging from Johnny Cash to Hawaiian shirts to microfocus images of insects.

More information on exhibitions, including a schedule, can be found here.

Professional Development             The ENGAGE program currently operates only in Kansas City and Houston. Through this program, M-AAA provides development resources for local small to mid-size organizations. Resources enhance the knowledge base regarding governance, fundraising, financial management, and community engagement. The goal is to increase the efficiency of these groups, ensure greater impact, and enable long-term sustainability.

Artist Development             The Artist INC program takes a different approach. This works with individual artists not on their craft (how to paint more realistically) but on their business (how to make it as a professional artist). The programs run independently in various cities. Currently they are available in Argenta and Springdale Arkansas; Austin and Houston, Texas; Lawrence, Kansas; Omaha, Nebraska; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

More information on ENGAGE and Artist INC at this link.

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A mural in Joplin, MO

 

Who Supports Them

Foundations, individual donors, and grants. There is a nearly equal split currently between grant money ($1.2 million), contracted services ($1.3 million), and contributions ($1.4 million). This feels like a very balanced portfolio. Kudos to the M-AAA for ensuring that there is no single source of funding that everything hangs upon.

Within the individual donors listed on the 2017 Annual Report, I notice a few names in the $100,000+ category (foundations all), and, as could be expected, increasing numbers as the size decreases. However, I expected a greater number of smaller (<$500) donors. There were only 53 listed; this seems small for an organization receiving over a million dollars in contributions. Perhaps there is an opportunity to expand the M-AAA’s reach to more individuals and broaden their base of support.

 

Challenges On the Horizon

 Because a major funding source is grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, budgetary restrictions there will certainly be felt at the regional level.

Plus, as more and more of our society’s interactions take place across online / mobile platforms, I foresee that organizations like this could end up fighting to justify traditional art forms. Rather than actually expanding artwork, supporting artists, and enhancing local groups, the M-AAA may have to “go back to the beginning”, so to speak, and advocate for art itself. That would certainly feel like a bit of a setback.

 

Opportunities Awaiting

 I’m encouraged, however, by the varied programs that M-AAA is currently investing in. Since ENGAGE is only in two locations, expansion to more major metropolitan areas within their geographic footprint is a natural step.

And with the Artist INC also in a similar growth mode, replication of this process throughout not only the region but across the country would be a great way to broaden the M-AAA’s impact and reach.

Despite the potential for increased online engagement to drive down in-person artistic participation, there is a large opportunity for M-AAA and other similar programs to harness mobile platforms for enhancement of their experiences. Perhaps M-AAA could partner not just with artists, but business collaborators, marketing agencies, app developers, and others on the forefront of future technology to ensure their programs integrate these recent developments. Rather than feeling intimidated by uncertain losses, the M-AAA could use these channels to drive more attendance at exhibitions and galleries; spread word-of-mouth farther and faster than ever before; and create interactive programs which harness social media rather than compete with it.

 

Conclusion

I think regional arts agencies like M-AAA have an incredible potential for the future. And, with community engagement and expanding artistic impact at the forefront, they will continue to impact lives in innumerable ways. Especially as they continue to promote plans like travel reimbursement funds available to artists residing more than 150 miles from Kansas City. More programs like this, with more funding for more artists, will truly help the M-AAA make More Art for More People.

 

Bonus

Check out the video made to celebrate 50 years of the National Endowment for the Arts.