UPAF campaign brings in $11.7 million for arts groups

upaf deanna tillisch
Deanna Tillisch, president and CEO of UPAF. (Photo: UPAF)

The United Performing Arts Fund’s 2020 campaign raised about $11.7 million for Milwaukee-area arts groups, UPAF announced Monday.

The total was down 1.9% compared to last year, but came in slightly above what leaders initially projected. The fund expected to see a 8.5% drop in this year’s campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

UPAF raises funds on behalf of 14 member performing arts organizations, including its cornerstone groups First Stage, Florentine Opera Company, Milwaukee Ballet, Milwaukee Rep, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Skylight Music Theatre. Those organizations face significant funding challenges this year as many have had to cancel in-person performances.

The state’s arts and cultural sector has been one of the hardest-hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent Wisconsin Policy Forum report. Meanwhile, continued caps on large gatherings and a reduction in discretionary spending among households due to the economic downturn mean the industry could be one of the last to normalize after the pandemic, the report said.

During down economies, arts education and community engagement programs are often the first to be reduced or eliminated so this support is needed more than ever,” said UPAF president and chief executive officer Deanna Tillisch. 

Dollars generated through UPAF fundraising totaled $11.36 million and another $304,000 came from grant revenue. The total includes $720,000 that was raised through Kasey’s Fund, a one-time initiative that designates dollars for arts accessibility in honor of Tillisch’s final campaign. The original goal for the fund was $250,000.

Tillisch will retire at the end of the month.

“When I announced that 2020 would be my final campaign, it never crossed my mind that it would take place in the midst of a global pandemic when our stages were forced to go dark,” Tillisch said. “While it has been the hardest campaign, it has also been one of the most rewarding. The UPAF team was energized – daily – by seeing our community come together to protect assets that add so much to our lives.”

Campaign co-chairs included Tami Garrison, community affairs director at Molson Coors; Justin Mortara, executive chairman at EnsoData; and Rolando Rodriguez, chairman, president and CEO of Marcus Theatres.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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