The Cherry finds stability with grant funding

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Good news for anyone who has partied at Pop’d or been wowed by The Snow Queen, The Cherry, Ithaca’s young not-for-profit arts organization, has been granted a stable foundation with two substantial grants.


The organization, which is only about two years old, was granted enough money last year to take the part-time, project-funded position of Artistic Director and make it a full-time, salaried position through a grant from the Regional Economic Development Council (REDC). With a grant for ongoing General Operating Support from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) the organization now has the peace of mind that comes with stable funding. While many art patrons love to give money to projects, operational funding helps an organization stop worrying about overhead costs like heating, rent, etc. for the performance space, and other expenses not covered in project-based funding. The Cherry will be using some of the money to make two other positions salaried as well: General Manager Laura Miller, and a new part-time Marketing Manager, Sarah Chaneles.


“I’ve been dreaming about that grant since I was a little boy,” said Artistic Director of The Cherry Sam Buggeln about the NYSCA grant. “Since I was a little freelance director in New York I would watch friend’s companies really, really work to get to the point – and usually after many years – when NYSCA would come in and be like ‘Operating funding, we count you as one of the Big Boys now. You’re going to last.’”


Getting the money for the two-year grant is like a vote of confidence from the council that The Cherry is doing work that has value and is worth keeping around for a while. The application for the grant is no joke, Buggeln said, at around 20ish pages.


This was The Cherry’s first time applying for the money so it was a big surprise when the organization was awarded the grant. The money can be used for practically anything as long as the grantee justifies it in the end-of-year report that is must give to the NYSCA.


“What you’re doing is establishing that you are in it for the long-haul and creating work at a high level of professionalism that’s recognized by your professional peers,” Buggeln said. “And that people are coming to see the work, and that they can trust that if they just give you money to just run the business that you’ll keep doing it.”


The work, Buggeln said, has to offer the community something that the grantee’s peers aren’t offering. The Cherry, which started as a collection of artists, has filled a number of unique niche interests in the area since creating The Cherry Arts Space in the West End. Pop’d is a nightclub-style dance party that brings in and celebrates local performance artists. Each season of plays that The Cherry puts on often includes international pieces making their American debut, or touches on social issues that other studios have yet to tackle.


Re-applying for the grant in the future will be less onerous, Buggeln said, now that they are already grantees. The hardest part is getting your first grant.
While in interviews for the operating grant, Buggeln said the organization was encouraged to go for the REDC grant as well. The money for the grant can be used for operating expenses through job creation.


“We could hire a part-time development director, we could hire a venue manager and technical director,” Buggeln said in the interview with NYSCA when asked what The Cherry could use the REDC money for. “She was like ‘Do you get paid?’”


So, the decision was made to make Buggeln a full-time salaried position, whereas before he was paid by the project. Now that the organization has three salaried positions, Buggeln said it felt like a really big step forward for the relatively young arts group.


Because the REDC grant funding is only for one year, the organization will be focusing a lot of fundraising efforts this year to help keep Buggeln’s position full-time after the grant is done. That is the council’s expectation, Buggeln said, when awarding the grants, that the grantees will take the year of stability to focus on keeping that stability in the future. For The Cherry, a new Membership program will be a key feature of the fundraising strategy this year.


After receiving the grants, Buggeln said he felt relieved that the organization could hire Chaneles. Like many of the projects at The Cherry before the grants, the marketing for each show was done project-by-project. Now, marketing will be consistent. It was also a relief to have the money to fully cover Miller’s salary.


“It’s like getting a pat on the back,” Miller said of the funding. “Getting a feeling that people are appreciating what you’re doing and taking it seriously, believing in you.”


For Chaneles, a recent Ithaca College graduate, this is the dream job. While attending IC as a journalism major, she often brought a theater focus to her work.


“I was very interested in theater around town,” Chaneles said. “I loved that The Cherry was doing something different than any of the other organizations around town. It was innovative, it was foreign stuff, it was new stuff, and not just theater. We also have parties and cool events.”


Before being hired full-time Chaneles was a marketing intern with The Cherry since August of last year.


Having the stability of three salaried positions to run The Cherry will help make overall operations smoother, Buggeln said. Along with the shows and parties that The Cherry puts on, the space can be rented out for events of all kinds. Without having to work project-by-project, the booking and managing of these events will be easier.


“Operation funding is less sexy than project funding,” Buggeln said. “Everyone wants to fund a project that is a cool, splashy, project that their name can be on. But what organizations really need is operational funding, to just be the bedrock that pays salaries.”


While celebrating the new grants, The Cherry will also be saying goodbye to a member that has helped make it what it is today. Jennifer Herzog, Associate Artistic Director, will be leaving The Cherry in order to dedicate herself to new projects.

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