As actress Myrna Loy no doubt knew, the fame and fortunes of a performing artist can be fickle and fleeting.
The Myrna Loy Center, named in honor of the hometown girl and Hollywood starlet, is suffering a similar fate.
After its most successful fundraiser ever in April, the Myrna's fortunes reversed in July.
It’s facing a stark year entering 2015.
This news will likely cause a shiver of anxiety in longtime Myrna fans who remember when the popular performing arts center and movie house closed its doors March 1, 2000, mired in $100,000 of debt.
This summer, the Myrna learned that two grants worth a total of $65,000 that it’s regularly received for over a decade won’t be coming in.
On the heels of this bad news came even more.
The Myrna is unexpectedly facing the immediate expense of fireproofing its theater curtains -- a costly procedure that was previously financially phased over several years.
Estimates are $6,000 to $10,000 for shipping and fireproofing the curtains, said acting managing director Krys Holmes.
This has been a year of transition for the Myrna, following the retirement of Ed Noonan in September. He initially stepped in as a volunteer director 14 years ago, and brought the Myrna back to national prominence.
When he left, Holmes, a longtime Myrna board member, stepped in to run the business end of the Myrna when the board decided to postpone hiring a permanent managing director.
Pete Ruzevich, Myrna’s longtime film programmer, was hired as artistic director this summer.
Holmes is a believer in “resurrections before death,” she said, and speaks from first-hand experience.
In 2012-2013 she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma.
She marvels that she was one of the lucky ones to be healed.
And also that she was the recipient of such an outpouring of “love, energy and good will” from this “amazing community.”
She and the Myrna board decided to share the Myrna’s health condition with the community.
Holmes points out that in 2000 people were upset to hear about the Myrna’s financial woes after it had already closed its doors.
“They think this is my Myrna,” she said. “I want people to know the Myrna is in a very fragile place, and the community needs to rally round.”
Last week, Holmes met with businessman Alan Nicholson, who helped draft a Myrna business plan. It calls for raising $30,000 by the end of January and an additional $21,000 by the end of June.
The Myrna needs immediate help with cash flow, she said.
“This is part of deciding what kind of Helena we want,” Holmes said. “We have this tremendous treasure of this magical place where things happen because of its national reputation. We can bring to Helena this transformative experience of art.”
People can help by volunteering, making a donation or pledging an automatic bank deduction donation, she said. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443-0287 ext. 35.
This year the Myrna, which had a preliminary budget of $605,043, had applied for $40,000 from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In the past 15 years, the PGAFF awarded the Myrna a total of $543,000 in grants, which has allowed it to do some of its most innovative programming. It helped fund such acts as Ed Asner’s one-man show as FDR, multiple Caravanserai programs of top Pakistani performing artists, Turtle Island Quartet and Kyle Abraham’s “PAVEMENT.”
This October, two programs -- Rosy Simas Danse and Sphinx Virtuosi -- performed at the Myrna, and had been booked after initial talks with PGAFF.
But, when the PGAFF funding didn’t come, the Myrna had to find money to pay up.
As far as the NEA grant, “It’s gotten way more competitive in recent years,” said Noonan.
The Myrna has received NEA funding for the past 15 years, he said. However, this year there were $75 million in requests for a pot of $29 million and the Myrna was left out.
Earlier this year, PGAFF announced it’s re-evaluating the programs it funds, but hasn’t released what these are and if it intends to fund in Montana in the future.
According to an email to the Independent Record by foundation spokesperson Ashley Coate, “The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is still in the process of determining its philanthropic investments for 2015, so I nor another Foundation spokesperson cannot yet comment on any details. However, the arts remain an area of support.”
Arts groups across the Northwest are scrambling in wake of the news, according to a September article in The Capitol Hill Times. It reported that PGAFF had awarded $2,750,000 to 31 arts organizations in 2013.
All the organizations expecting funds had received invitations to apply, which was the case for the Myrna Loy Center this year.
“Every year we had to give specific details,” said Noonan of his communication with the foundation’s program officer.
Noonan was told at that time that funding would likely be for one year because the foundation was contemplating a change in direction.
You have free articles remaining.
“You go in. You talk to them about your plan,” explained Noonan of the process. “You’re invited to apply, then you submit a proposal. So in March we applied.”
In June, Noonan learned that the foundation was putting a freeze on all of the March grant cycle.
“This started a panic,” said Noonan of the news. “I know other arts organizations in the Northwest were impacted.”
Both Rosy Simas Dance and Sphinx Virtuosi were in the March proposal to PGAFF and had been discussed with the program officer, said Noonan.
While some would say not to contract with artists until the funding comes in, he said, “we have to be planning months in advance. It’s very hard to do with funding contingencies.”
“It’s 10 percent of the budget gone,” Noonan said. “It’s most dramatic impact is on cash flow. It’s the only major grant that comes in from May to October at the Myrna."
Foundation funding for the arts in Montana
If PGAFF does change its giving, this could be particularly hard on Montana arts groups, since few major foundations give money to the arts here.
In Helena, previous recipients have been the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts and the Holter Museum of Art.
The Archie Bray has not applied this year to PGAFF, said Bray resident artist director Steven Young Lee.
“Most recently we had funding from them for an economic impact study,” said Lee. “They’ve been very supportive of the Bray.”
Recent contributions were $50,000 in 2013 for the impact study, hiring a consultant and producing some publications regarding that, said Lee. The Bray also received a $25,000 grant in 2011 to help fund its 60th anniversary event and $12,000 in 2008 for strategic planning.
“It’s within their rights to move on and to fund whatever they want,” said Lee. “The fact that they came in at all was really fantastic.”
Another Helena nonprofit -- the Montana Nonprofit Association, has received major funding from PGAFF in recent years.
“We are entering in our second year of a two-year grant for a total of $100,000,” said MNA Executive Director Liz Moore.
“If (our) report is accepted, we expect to receive another $50,000,” Moore said.
“One of the things that is really important about Montana,” said Moore, “is we don’t have a lot of major foundations. And we don’t have major foundations in Montana that fund the arts.”
This sentiment was echoed by Arlyn “Arni” Fishbaugh, executive director of the Montana Arts Council.
“Any of the organizations that had good relationships with the Allen Foundation were very surprised,” she said. “Paul Allen had been a major player here. It’s very hard to find national foundations that fund in Montana.”
To deal with the loss, organizations will need to develop more earned income revenue sources, she said.
“In many situations, it’s going to mean curtailing programming,” Fishbaugh said. “There’s not other foundations out there that fund at that level.”
Although the news is alarming to arts organizations, it’s not uncommon for foundations to change their funding priorities.
“Foundations can be fickle,” Fishbaugh said.
Fundraising and new ideas
“It was like a kick in the stomach,” said fundraising chair Linda Piccolo of the flip in the Myrna’s fortunes.
In April they were thinking they had a cushion of money and then “zap in July it was gone.”
The board put in their own money -- donating $13,000 -- to get the Myrna through, Piccolo said.
Ever upbeat, Piccolo’s taken up the challenge. “It’s opened new opportunities for fundraising,” she said.
One of these is a Gamers Tournament, set for Jan. 17 at the Myrna from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
It will start in the lobby, she said, with the semifinals and finals on the large screen in the auditorium.
“Not only do I think it will bring in new people,” she said, “but new money.”
It will be a whole new crowd than those who attend arts films.
“We’re all in,” said Piccolo of the efforts by the board and Holmes to get the Myrna back to good health.
“Krys has been doing this for three months with no salary,” Piccolo said. “She has a husband, a young daughter and she has another job. She’s a cancer survivor. That’s the kind of love she has for the Myrna.
“The Myrna is so important to me personally,” said Piccolo. “It has to go on. ... We need to be so strong that a $40,000 grant loss doesn’t put us in a panic.”
“We had some challenges in 2007-2008,” said board chair Donna Erwin. “We came through that challenge (the recession) with great support and a wonderful and dedicated staff that was willing to sacrifice.
“We thank the community for their support,” she said. “We will survive again because of our great support and our great staff.”