On a recent evening in January at a downtown space known as the ArtBar, located on the corner of 2nd Street and Gold, (formerly Jazzbah) over a hundred people gathered to celebrate the kick-off party of the Tricklock Revolutions Theater Festival. The space featured a nice bar at one end and a stage on the other, as well as ample seating and standing room space in between to allow those gathered a chance to enjoy beer, performances and crowd mingling.
A private club, the ArtBar is the innovative brainchild of the Catalyst Club, an organization of four men and women who met one another through the Tricklock Theater Company, where three out of the four serve as board members. Licensed to sell liquor under the non-profit club by-laws of the state of New Mexico's Alcohol & Gaming Commission, ArtBar will operate as a non-profit, private club whose mission is to raise money for the arts through the sales of the bar.
New Mexico is a state with a limited quota of liquor licenses, and generally speaking, liquor licenses are expensive and hard to come by. This particular statute allows non-profits to get a liquor license for much less expenditure than a commercial liquor license—providing that they operate as a private club open only to members.
Similar organizations that use the non-profit club license would include the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Elks Club and the Albuquerque Press Club.
The Catalyst Club includes Julia Mandeville, director of programming and community relations at the Harwood Arts Center; Shastyn Friedman, owner of Shastyn Photography and Design; and Skye Morris-Devore and David Hargis, co-owners of the Tractor Brewing Company. The foursome got together to create the space and began selling memberships through their website for $25 each before they applied for their license. There are over 150 members listed on the website and the membership is growing, according to Mandeville.
“It was after a Tricklock board meeting in the spring of 2012,” said Mandeville. “We were discussing how to generate more revenues for Albuquerque's arts organizations. We wanted to raise more money for Tricklock, of course, but we realized that every arts organization in the city must have a similar issue for raising general funds. The question became 'How could we generate revenue without competing with the organizations that we ultimately wanted to serve?’”
While the project was still in the idea stages, the members of the Catalyst Club approached Rick Rennie, asset manager of the Historic District Improvement Corporation (HDIC). The HDIC owns a number of properties in downtown and it, in turn, is owned by the McCune Foundation, a philanthropic organization located in Santa Fe whose mission is “to enhance the spiritual and cultural life of all New Mexicans.”
“The HDIC owns several properties in downtown Albuquerque, and we try to find projects that fit the mission statement of developing a more vibrant downtown center,” said Rennie. “I received about ten proposals for the space that was the Jazzbah, but none of them were as good as what the ArtBar was proposing to do.”
The basic plan of the ArtBar is simple—it will function as a bar space for its members and also be available for arts-related events. At the end of its first year, ArtBar will take the profits from its operations and split them evenly between six arts-oriented non-profit organizations. The first year's recipients have already been determined. They are 516 Arts, Harwood Arts Center, Tricklock Theater Company, Blackout Theater, Urban Verbs and the Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
“For our first year, we pre-selected arts organizations because we wanted our patrons to know which organizations that their patronage of ArtBar was supporting,” said Mandeville. “After our first year, we will be accepting Letters of Inquiry from any area arts organization that wishes to be considered for an ArtBar grant, which is more like a traditional granting process.”
Generally speaking, grants made to arts organizations are given to fund specific programs or projects, rather than to “the general fund” which includes general operations budgetary needs like rent or worker salaries. The result is that organizations often spend the bulk of their time raising money for general operating funding—time that could be better spent on the demands of the mission statement. ArtBar grants will be different.
“Because we're aware of the issues in how grants are generally awarded through either working for non-profits or through our collective board experience, we decided that ArtBar grants would be for general operations, which gives organizations the freedom to determine how monies will be spent,” said Mandeville.
As of this writing, it is unclear when ArtBar will hold its official grand opening, but Mandeville says that they feel confident that they will be able to stick with their stated opening of “Spring of 2013”—it's just unclear exactly when that will be.
Letters of Inquiry from area arts organizations will be accepted by ArtBar between now and June of 2013. Letters must provide an overview of the organizations’ mission, programs, services and a summary of fiscal standing. Decisions on grantees will be made by a committee consisting of board members and selected representatives of the membership. Detailed guidelines can be found on the organization's website.
All things considered, ArtBar is an innovative solution to the issue of how to pro-actively raise money for Albuquerque non-profits, as well as to provide a meeting space for the city's creatives and artists. We look forward to the opening of ArtBar and their future contributions to the city's arts organizations.