Due to declining grant funding over the past several years, the 41-year-old nonprofit Hippodrome has begun a six-month capital campaign to raise $750,000.
Two couples, Nathan and Ani Collier and Ken and Linda McGurn have already pledged $50,000 to start up the campaign.
“The Hippodrome is a cultural gem in the heart of downtown and this community,” said Linda Mcgurn. “It brings tremendous economic impact to the whole city and brings great plays that entertain and challenge us to think about art in our lives. I cannot imagine Gainesville without the Hipp.”
The theater has also opened a “Keep Gainesville Hipp” crowdfunding campaign on the website Indiegogo to raise $50,000 through April 12.
“This is going to be an ongoing fundraising push,” said Hippodrome Managing Director Jessica Hurov. “The Indiegogo campaign is a bridge to get us through June and this season. It’s also easier to use for all of the interns and actors we’ve worked with and people who have seen our shows who want to donate from across the country.”
The Hippodrome finds itself in this situation due to steadily declining grants over the past five years. Annual grant support is down $559,000, and while the Hippodrome’s Education Department received $280,000 in educational grants from 2009 to 2010 that number dropped to $130,000 from 2012 to 2013 and nothing from 2013 to 2014.
In response to these cuts, the Hippodrome has eliminated and left vacant 14 full-time positions, including cinema manager, lighting designer and grants administrator. Programming has also been affected, including the defunding of The Hippodrome Improvisational Theatre, the Teen Playwright Festival, the Senior Playwright Festival and the One City, One Story program.
The Indiegogo campaign is only one piece of the fundraising puzzle that can be pushed through social media, Hurov said, and the remainder will be raised through donor contributions and benefits. More than 15 actors in New York who have previously worked with the Hippodrome are holding a benefit in the coming weeks to raise funds and the Hippodrome staff will be holding a benefit party in the theater’s basement on May 9 for around $25 a ticket.
Hurov said that the community has already come out in support of the campaign, even if they can’t contribute much financially. Artists and musicians have come forward looking for ways to help and other community members have volunteered their time, contacts and fundraising experience.
The Hippodrome has implemented several initiatives to keep programs running with a leaner staff, including strategic hires, increased facility rentals, co-productions with other performing arts organizations, equipment upgrades for improved efficiencies, improved ticketing software and a plan to rebuild the theater’s cash reserves.
“We don’t think that grants will be coming back anytime soon,” Hurov said. “So we’re becoming more self-sufficient in any way we can. We’ve shrunk staff and programs and we’ve shrunk our ability to shrink any further. We can’t make any more cuts and still operate. Right now everybody is doing multiple jobs and we’re all working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”