Rockford Arts Organization Receives Needed Funds

Sep 8, 2020

A northern Illinois arts organization is now better equipped to help other art institutions.  

Rockford Area Arts Council.
Credit Yvonne Boose

The Rockford Area Arts Council has received two COVID relief grants. One was an 81Thrive Award from the community impact team, which includes the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, the Kjellstrom Family Foundation, the Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence (NICNE), Transform Rockford, United Way of Rock River Valley, and the Workforce Connection. The RAAC also received a grant from the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund.

Mary McNamara Bernsten is the executive director of the Arts Council. She said these grants are vital for the health of the organization. 

“It's imperative that we got that because it will not only allow us to then survive in 2021,” she explained, “but we may be able to thrive and be a true resource for the artists’ community.” 

McNamara Bernsten said the funds will be used to help other art organizations develop their boards, and to build capacity for technology upgrades. A couple of these include updating websites and developing an effective social media presence. 

She said places like the Music Academy of Rockford, Rockford Symphony Orchestra and the Rockford Art Museum are some of the institutions that will benefit from the assistance. 

McNamara Bernsten said that other arts organizations will benefit as well: those that have recently become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.  

“And they need our help and our guidance," she shared, "to help them find funding resources, to help them navigate the really complicated state and federal funding opportunities."

McNamara Bernsten said that the Arts Council has had struggles as well during COVID-19. She said that without the grants, the RAAC's budget would have barely balanced.

“We have been very lucky in the sense that our staff has remained the same,” she said. “We have been very lucky that the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan was something that we could take full advantage of, and really use to the advantage of the community so that we could forward our arts organizations without worrying about our payroll.”    

The 81Thrive discretionary award includes a $50,000 cash grant and up to another $25,000 for in-kind services and assessments. The grant from the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund totals $10,000.