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To Weather Storm, Arts Groups Plot, Pool Resources

On the heels of the Crupi report and the revamped downtown master plan, the central planning bug has bitten the arts and culture community too.

This time Bill Martin, executive director of the Valentine Richmond History Center, is pushing a new "regional cultural action plan."

In the last year, Richmond's arts and culture groups have been forced to re-evaluate as Richmond CenterStage, the yet-to-open downtown performing arts center, consumes healthy chunks of local fundraising for construction and clouds the future of downtown arts venues.

Martin's plan comes on the heels of a similar proposal floated by the folks who operate CenterStage, the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation. Eight months ago, the arts foundation offered to head up an umbrella organization called the Richmond Cultural Trust, promising to help smaller Richmond-area arts groups raise money in exchange for consolidating their marketing and fundraising efforts.

The theory: Because so many were going after the same pie -- and private donors were overwhelmed by the options and political implications of giving to different groups — it made sense to consolidate efforts. That plan failed to gain traction; some voiced concerns about giving CenterStage too much leverage in administering and distributing funds, among other issues.

Martin expects his plan to fare better. His idea is to appoint a steering committee of representatives from museums, visual and performing arts groups, local governments, corporations, CenterStage and the Arts Council of Richmond. They would hire a consultant to make recommendations about how to best reorganize themselves to distribute private and public money, while finding opportunities for groups to collaborate on marketing, programming and fundraising.

So far, the plan has been received as a grassroots, consensus proposal. David Fisk, executive director of the Richmond Symphony, says the new cultural group has legs because of its inclusiveness.

"It was unanimously supported by not just all of the arts organizations in the city but the CenterStage Foundation and the Arts Council," Fisk says.

The new action plan "has real potential," says steering committee member Janine Y. Bell, executive director of the Elegba Folklore Society Inc. "I do look forward to this plan being one that brings about simplicity and equity with regard to funding decisions," she says.

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