Beaufort News

Hilton Head seeks funding solution for struggling arts groups

The Town of Hilton Head Island is seeking seasoned consultants that can help get the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina and other arts groups on solid financial footing -- and keep them there for at least 10 years.

Interested consulting groups have until April 24 to submit a bid that, among other things, will help determine how much, if any, public funding the town should provide to the arts center, the Hilton Head Symphony and other arts organizations in the town.

The town anticipates paying the winning consulting group about $80,000 for the job. That's based on costs other communities have paid for similar work, town manager Steve Riley said.

Town staff will choose a winner by late May, Riley said.

Specifically, town leaders are looking for experts "to study a possible collaboration among local performing and cultural arts organizations to share resources and expertise to instill more efficiency in operations," according to the request posted on the town's website. That includes finding new funding methods, making more efficient use of their facilities and encouraging the community to increase its support for the arts.

The proposal comes after the nonprofit arts center sent up a distress signal and asked the town for a $346,000 advance in accommodations tax money to help it prepare for its theater season. The advance was given.

But more money is needed long-term, said arts center president and CEO Kathleen Bateson, to pay for maintenance and repairs to the nearly 17-year-old venue.

Bateson has suggested the town buy the building and take care of the upkeep and improvements.

But Town Council members have been hesitant to consider that because it would likely mean more money from island residents. They also note that many of the island's other arts groups are hurting financially.

The arts center has struggled financially since its 45,000-square-foot space was built in 1996, operating in the red in most years.

Tax records for the most recent fiscal year have been completed but will not be shared with the media until the board sees them at its April meeting, center spokesman Tom Gardo said.

On Friday, Bateson applauded the town's plan to hire a consulting group to help, adding that the other arts groups are on board.

"This is one of the few communities that doesn't have funding for the arts beyond accommodations taxes. Taking a look at this issue makes sense," she said.

Meanwhile, the center is surviving, Bateson said.

Better-than-anticipated ticket sales for two recent shows, "The Four Freshman" and "Anything Goes," has helped, she said.

The center also is adopting some energy savings recommended by Palmetto Electric Cooperative to cut costs.

A $5 million fundraising campaign is expected to help pay off the center's $2.5 million debt and cover the cost of some of the needed building improvements.

Follow reporter Gina Smith at

Related content:

To increase energy efficiency, arts center would have to spend thousands, Feb. 20, 2013

Hilton Head Arts Center raises $5 million; says it still needs financial help, Jan. 23, 2013

Town of Hilton Head to arts center: Don't count on bailout, Dec. 15, 2012