Amarillo Area Foundation gives out inaugural Arts and Culture grants to nonprofits

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Amarillo Area Foundation Closing in on $200 M_-6156488471400660651

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — In its history, the Amarillo Area Foundation has given millions of dollars to area nonprofit organizations which improve the Amarillo area, as well as the Texas Panhandle region as a whole. 

But with its inaugural set of grants for local and regional arts organizations, the foundation is looking to further improve quality of life for Texas Panhandle residents by supporting the entities which reach individuals through their free time. 

The Amarillo Area Foundation, through the Don and Sybil Harrington Foundation, recently granted 13 regional arts organizations with a combined $300,000, helping them with operations, maintenance and other needs. According to a post from the foundation on its Facebook page, the fund was initially created to help regional arts and culture organizations continue their work. 

The following organizations received funds through this inaugural Arts and Culture grant: 

  • Amarillo Little Theatre – $40,000
  • Amarillo Museum of Art – $15,000 
  • Amarillo Opera – $50,000 
  • Amarillo Symphony – $37,500
  • Borger Community Theatre – $15,000
  • Canadian Arts Alliance – $10,000
  • Canadian River Arts Center – $7,500 
  • Citadelle Art Foundation – $10,000
  • High Plains Public Radio – $7.500
  • La Rita Performing Arts Center – $35,000 
  • Lone Star Ballet – $37,500
  • TX Panhandle Art Education Association – $15,000
  • Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center – $20,000 

Why did the Amarillo Area Foundation start this fund? 

Historically, the Amarillo Area Foundation has given to arts organizations, Keralee Clay, a senior vice president at the foundation, said. However, this fund specifically targeted at those organizations helps lower the barriers, especially for the smaller organizations, to receive funding. 

“Some of the smaller organizations just weren’t able to apply with us,” she said. “It’s a very cumbersome process for a smaller organization. We wanted to make sure we could support all of the arts organizations.”

During this inaugural year, Clay said the foundation was able to fund all 13 of the organizations which applied for funds. A committee of arts supporters throughout the community determined what amount of the $300,000 each respective organization was going to receive. 

Through the applications from these organizations, Clay said it shows the organizations have a heart for the community, adding to the overall quality of life for the Texas Panhandle, even in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“If anything, this last year taught us that our arts organizations were really hurt by the pandemic and are continuing to have to readjust and pivot in order to survive what’s going on now,” Clay said. “We traditionally funded more capital campaigns and programmatic work but sometimes, our arts organizations really need operational funding or funding for marketing. We really looked at how we can help them right now through this process and make sure we are actually giving them what they need, and not what we think they need.” 

How are some of the grant recipients using the funds?

Through the $40,000 it received, Jason Crespin, the managing and artistic director of the Amarillo Little Theatre (ALT), said it gave the organization the ability to pay for a necessity the entity found they needed relatively recently. 

“Over the end of last season and into the summer, we realized we need air conditioners and we need them quick. Our air system was old but also, the last time we replaced them, the ticket price was a whole lot less than it is right now,” Crespin said. “That phone call that we got from the Amarillo Area Foundation was a blessing, for sure.” 

Because of the pandemic, Crespin said ALT did not have much extra income to take care of that necessity, stressing the importance of receiving the funds from the Amarillo Area Foundation. Now, the theater is able to focus those funds on its productions as well as providing opportunities for its academy students. 

“Having the Amarillo Area Foundation to concentrate their efforts on arts organizations is huge. It’s kind of like we have a big brother that’s kind of helping take care of us. That’s so important, especially now,” he said. “It’s not only an impact for us right now in September, or even this… season. It’s something that’s going to benefit us for the next 10 years, by far.”

What stood out to Haley Cheon, the development director for the Amarillo Symphony, about these grant funds was how open they were. Through this grant, the symphony received $37,500 to support its upcoming audition season in 2022. 

According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, three candidates for the symphony’s music director position will “audition” through six concerts in the 2022 season, after Jacomo Bairos, the symphony’s current music director, tenure ends in November. Officials are hoping to announce in July who the new music director for the symphony is. 

Cheon said these funds will go to paying for the things that put on the season, including paying the musicians and the music director candidates themselves, as well as the rental and purchase of music and other items. 

“We have a number of other things that we do. But this is probably the most front-facing thing that we do,” she said. “The thing that the public will probably think of first when they think of the symphony are the concerts that we put on in that Globe-News Center (for the Performing Arts)… For us, it kind of counts as operating support, I would say, while being very specific for this process of finding a new music director.” 

Cheon said she is thankful for the Amarillo Area Foundation, providing these funds for the symphony through this transition season, especially as the symphony moves towards its 100th season in 2024. But she believes this grant fund will impact the arts organizations as a whole throughout the region. 

“We are just so grateful, I think first just to say that they started this fund,” Cheon said. “That in and of itself, beyond even the granting for us, them going ahead and setting up this fund makes a big statement, I think. It shows that the foundation realizes the importance of art in the Panhandle.” 

For Michael Sinks, the executive director of the Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center in Pampa, he said these funds will help get the message of his center out there to more people. The center showcases the history of Guthrie, as well as folk music as a whole, and hosts live music and “jam sessions” with community members as well as area schools.

The $20,000 that the center received will go towards general operating funds, Sinks said. The funds will give the center a cushion, covering the cost for a budget in a normal year. Because of this grant, Sinks said the center will be able to hire musicians to provide more live music and more opportunities for the center overall. 

“It takes the pressure off, of not having to worry so much about if we are going to be able to be open next month, for the next six months. This pretty much gives us a year’s (budget)… It gives us a cushion that we haven’t had before,” he said. “An enormous thanks (to the Amarillo Area Foundation). We feel like that we’ve been given a chance to continue a mission here in the Panhandle and in the Pampa area that we’ve been doing for 20+ years. We feel like we’re finally getting a little recognition for the hard work we have been putting in for a long time.” 

How does helping the arts organizations help the Texas Panhandle community as a whole? 

Clay said this initiative continues the work of Sybil Harrington, a big proponent of the arts throughout the Texas Panhandle. Even though Sybil Harrington died in 1998, according to the foundation’s website, Clay said she continues to have a big impact on the arts in the area, even in 2021. 

“We really want to continue her legacy,” Clay said. “She not only supported the arts in her lifetime (but) she’s a continued supporter of the arts. She set up the Harrington Foundation in a way that the arts was a key focus in some of our designated grantees. We want to continue to make sure we are upholding that legacy.” 

The arts as a whole provide a higher standard of living for Amarillo residents, as well as residents of the Texas Panhandle as a whole, Clay said. 

“Some of us look at arts as a touchy, feely thing but it really is about our economy as well. If we don’t have quality of life and things that people want to do when they are not working, we are not going to be able to attract the type of businesses we want,” she said. 

Clay said the foundation plans on continuing this effort for arts organizations throughout the Texas Panhandle in future years. She encouraged nonprofits to contact the foundation for more information. 

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