UPAF member groups project $8.3 million loss in revenue

Fund extending annual campaign by two months

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The 14 Milwaukee-area arts organizations supported by the United Performing Arts Fund are projecting a collective $8.3 million loss in revenue this season due to canceled performances and events. 

Among those groups, a total of 509 performances have been canceled, and 500 employees have been furloughed, laid off or experienced salary cuts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our groups are feeling pretty scared right now,” said Deanna Tillisch, president and chief executive officer of UPAF. 

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Tillisch talked about the pandemic’s impact on the region’s arts sector during a daily briefing hosted by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce this week. 

“When we look at the arts and cultural sector, it’s getting hit very, very hard, as you can imagine,” she said. “We need this sector right now probably more than we ever have, because we need to have … our spirits lifted. The future of Milwaukee is critically important to all of us and arts and culture can play a material role in helping us climb out of this pandemic and get back to a strong, vibrant city.”

UPAF annually raises funds on behalf of its member groups. They include First Stage, the Florentine Opera, Milwaukee Ballet, The Rep, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Skylight Music Theatre, Bel Canto Chorus, Danceworks, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Children’s Choir, Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, Next Act Theatre, Present Music and Renaissance Theaterworks. It also supports many affiliated groups and community arts programs. 

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UPAF recently announced it is extending its 2020 campaign by two months, allowing more time to solicit donations. The campaign, which kicked off March 3, will now run to Aug. 31. The 2019 campaign brought in $11.9 million. 

However, the pandemic has interrupted UPAF’s primary source of fundraising – workplace giving. Tillisch noted that 90 fundraising and stewardship events related to the 2020 campaign have been canceled.

“For us, the challenge is that three-quarters of our donors come through the workplace, and there’s nobody in the workplace,” Tillisch said, adding that companies can still host virtual workplace giving campaigns.

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UPAF recently launched a new initiative – UNITE with UPAF Collaborative – to offer free virtual performing arts experiences in partnership with its member organizations. The fund is compensating its member groups, which will help support the artists, and is funding technology enhancements for its member groups to deliver the digital performances. 

“UNITE with UPAF Collaborative presents the opportunity to demonstrate why the arts matter, especially at times of crisis,” said Tim Mattke, chief executive officer of MGIC and chair of the UPAF board of directors. “We need the performing arts for their cultural, educational and economic value. In addition to delivering the best in music, dance and theater, UPAF Member Groups generate millions of dollars for our local economy. On both a spiritual and measurable level, we need the arts to get through this pandemic a stronger and more unified community.”

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