A year after severing ties with the city and reorganizing as a private nonprofit, the Sandy Springs Arts Foundation is taking a “reset” on its mission and fundraising goal.

“We are still in the process of figuring out how we are going to get back on the goal of raising money,” said Ken Byers, who chairs the foundation’s board.

Ken Byers, chair of the Sandy Springs Arts Foundation board. (Special)

The foundation has backed off on its $7.5 million fundraising goal, lost and has yet to replace its executive director, and is no longer handling the brick-buying program for the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center at City Springs. However, it is still focused on the mission to subsidize arts programs, as well as marketing the naming rights for the entire building.

The nonprofit foundation, established by the city government, began working in 2017 with a mission of subsidizing arts programs at the PAC. That included grants for programming subsidies and arts education, running a campaign where donors would get their names on brick pavers in the City Green park, and vetting naming opportunities for the PAC and other City Springs facilities.

But the city has taken the reins and announced its own brick-and seat-buying program at a Sept. 3 Public Facilities Authority meeting.

Byers says the decision to have the city, rather than the foundation, sell the bricks was made in a meeting with Mayor Rusty Paul and City Council at the beginning of the year. He said the decision came because the entities mutually agreed the program was more for the city since “the city owns the City Green and it is their bricks.”

“But I hope the city sells some bricks,” Byers said.

City spokesperson Sharon Kraun confirmed that in conversations between the city and foundation, it was mutually agreed that the city would oversee the program, but she could not confirm a specific meeting in which it was decided.

The city has sold about a dozen bricks and marketing efforts to promote sales are being finalized for a fall campaign, according to Kraun.

When the program was announced, it was undetermined whether the naming donations would be tax deductible, but Kraun says it has now been determined they are.

“It was determined by the city’s legal financial advisor that contributions made by a donor over the cost of a goods [or] services provided is entitled to tax benefits, subject to the advice of the donor’s tax advisor or attorney,” Kraun said.

Now, the foundation is refocusing its efforts on raising money for the PAC and its arts programs.

“We have the same mission,” Byers said, “We don’t produce shows, but we want to support them.”

“The Foundation continues to support programming at the Performing Arts Center,” Kraun said.

Byers says this year, the Foundation gave $100,000 for education programs for City Springs Theatre Company, approved a $25,000 grant for an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra New Year’s Eve concert, helped fund the Aug. 24 Angelica Hale concert and the city’s Friday night concert series.

In late 2018, the foundation board severed its ties with the city and reorganized as a private nonprofit for several reasons, including the reduction of possible legal conflicts and to shield itself from laws requiring open meetings and open records.

The board hired its first executive director Emily Hutmacher in January 2018 but it was released that she started a new job as executive director of Playworks Georgia in August 2019.

Hutmacher’s last official day with the foundation was July 15, but she gave her notice in May, according to Byers, who would not explain why she resigned.

Byers says the foundation is using a firm called Our Fundraising Search to find a new director who fits the bill and currently has four dozen applicants.

“The search is on,” Byers said. “I am sure we will find a great candidate.”

Hutmacher was in charge of creating a strategic plan for the Foundation, which Byers says is on its way to being completed.

“Four of our board members are working on that,” Byers said. “I really like the way it sounds.”

As of now, the Foundation has 11 board members, with the possibility of more joining soon, Byers says.

“I am excited about what we are going to get done,” Byers said.

At its quarterly meeting on Sept. 25, the foundation was scheduled to discuss how to present the new strategic plan to start raising money for the Performing Arts Center, according to Byers.

At its formation two years ago, the foundation had a fundraising goal of $7.5 million, which Byers says the foundation decided to rethink.

“We realized we were getting ahead of ourselves and that was not realistic, so we canceled that program,” Byers said. “We were trying to run before we knew how to walk.”

Byers says the foundation raised around 30-35% of that goal by December 2017 but has not raised much since.

“We are still reorganizing with a lot of resets,” Byers said.

Byers says the foundation is still working on a marketing program for naming rights to the PAC, as well as individual pieces of the building such as the Studio Theatre, the balcony and the individual boxes in the Byers Theatre.

“It has been a bit slow because of all the changes,” Byers said. “It has been frustrating but we are here.”

Kraun also says the naming opportunity for the PAC remains open.

How to buy an engraved brick or seat at City Springs

The city is now offering personalized paving bricks and theater seat nameplates, engraved with names or brief messages, at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center at City Springs. The bricks will be installed in the City Green park and the nameplates go on seats in the Byers Theatre. The tax-deductible donations are intended to support youth arts education and general events at the PAC.

  • Bricks are available for $300
  • Seats are available for $1,000
  • A package of both is available for $1,200

According to the city, the donations are tax-deductible.

To place orders, see citysprings.com/supportarts.

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.