An Interview With Tim Whalen, Director of External Affairs, American Conservatory Theater
Today, under the leadership of Carey Perloff and Ellen Richard, ACT is nationally recognized for its groundbreaking productions of classical works and bold explorations of contemporary playwriting. Since the reopening of the American Conservatory Theater (formerly the Geary) in 1996 after the theater was heavily damaged during the 1989 earthquake, ACT has enjoyed a remarkable period of audience expansion and renewed financial stability. The company continues to produce challenging theater in the rich context of symposia, audience discussions and community interaction.
The conservatory, led by Melissa Smith, now serves 2,500 students every year. It was the first actor training program in the United States not affiliated with a college or university accredited to award a master of fine arts degree. Danny Glover, Annette Bening, Denzel Washington, Benjamin Bratt and Anika Noni Rose are among the conservatory's distinguished former students. With its commitment to excellence in actor training and to the relationship between training, performance and audience, the ACT Master of Fine Arts Program has moved to the forefront of America's actor training programs, while serving as the creative engine of the company at large.
FS: How do you fund your mission?
TW: ACT is funded through earned income; including subscriptions and ticket sales; tuition (in our actor training conservatory); and concessions; and through contributions from individuals, foundations, corporations and government grantmakers. Our earned-to-contributed-income ratio in the most recently completed fiscal year was 65 percent earned, 35 percent contributed.
FS: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces as far as fundraising is concerned? How do you overcome them?
TW: Like many arts and cultural organizations, ACT has been impacted by the economic recession, experiencing a decline in subscriptions and ticket sales, and with this decline a drop in annual fund contributions from individuals. With a shrinking donor base, we have focused on building a major-gifts program to leverage greater giving from our most generous long-time donors. This effort has paid off, and we have been successful growing our major-gifts program over the past two years and have raised more dollars from fewer individuals.