Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Gallery 263 board and staff members at a June 8 celebration are, from left, Allison Gray, Laura Kathrein and Doug Breault. (Photo: Gallery 263)

A 15th anniversary isn’t Gallery 263’s only milestone this year. The nonprofit art space is a month into its “263 to $40k” campaign – the biggest fundraiser in its history, and a potential turning point for the organization.

The fundraiser marks the gallery’s desire to improve as an organization, board members said. For years, it has operated “on a shoestring budget,” Laura Kathrein said in an interview, but after starting as an all-volunteer organization, now has three part-time staff including directors of communications (Allison Gray), operations (Sophia Day) and exhibitions (Doug Breault). Beyond keeping the gallery doors open, the board’s goals for the fundraiser include offering cost-of-living increases for staff.

“We are one of the few nonprofit gallery spaces that are left in the city,” Kathrein said, “and I think a lot of people maybe don’t realize we’re a nonprofit or don’t quite understand the community initiative that is the gallery.”

Yan

Mainly an exhibit space, the storefront at Pearl Street and Putnam Avenue in Cambridgeport has also been a center for comedy, music and classes. It’s the only gallery in the neighborhood, and one of the few in Cambridge, where real estate prices have made things rough for creative businesses and nonprofits in recent years. Organizational revenue has increased tenfold over the past 15 years, according to Gallery 263’s 990 forms. In the fiscal year ending June 2009, total revenue was a mere $3,457 and total expenses were more than $15,000. As of the fiscal year ending June 2022, revenue has increased to $39,449, while expenses for that year were $68,986.

While the gallery received the occasional small grant from the City of Cambridge pre-Covid, the pandemic changed the fundraising landscape. Kathrein was president of the board of directors since 2021, and stepped down in late September. “My tenure as president [was] picking up the pieces post-Covid,” she said. Kathrein still serves as vice president, while Lucy Yan has assumed the title of president.

The organization has no dedicated fundraising staff member and relies on board member support for fundraising, which ebbs and flows according to experience and interest.

Visitors take in an exhibition at Gallery 263 in Cambridgeport. (Photo: Gallery 263)

“We are such a working board,” Kathrein said, “not a board that sits around, shows up for a quarterly meeting, and then talks about ideas, and then gets together again in another quarter. Like, we are depositing checks. We are working the reception. We are running artist talks. We are cleaning out the basement. We are painting the gallery, we are helping flip shows. So the cadence in which we apply for grants often depends on the board members we have. And so when we go through a lull of folks on the board, whose strengths are not really in applying for that, we lose some of that cadence.”

In the absence of significant grants and fundraising – there is also a small amount of revenue from yoga classes and other programs – the gallery has relied largely on artist submission fees, which a board with many artist members wants “to get away from completely,” Yan said. The hope with the fundraiser is to move toward sliding-scale fees, making programming more accessible to those who can’t pay full fare.

Yan aims to “transform where the funding comes from,” cultivating relationships with larger donors or “stewards.” There are a few such dedicated supporters now, relationships that the team is deeply grateful for but that have taken years to build. “We want to draw in large donors who want to keep spaces like this alive,” Kathrein said – meaning fewer one-off donations and fees and more ongoing relationships.

Foraged banquets are an annual Gallery 263 fundraiser. (Photo: Gallery 263)

“Any time we want to launch a new initiative,” Yan said, “the question is, well, can we afford it? We just had an artist-in-residence program … can we afford to do a second one?” Each new exhibition idea needs ongoing support, and so the fundraiser is also meant to sustain programming such as a three-year-old Small Works Project of flat files in the back of the gallery. It started when the exhibitions director noticed “a little bit of extra space” in the snug gallery, communications director Gray said. Shelving was needed, but “our co-founder is really handy and said ‘I can build these,’ and all of a sudden, boom, we had space to show 12 more artists over the course of the year.”

That increased artist opportunities, and with it the work of handling artist submissions.

“Anything we start,” Yan said, “there’s just a funding need to maintain it.”

Board members still have dreams for new programming such as artist networking nights, but sustaining existing programs is their priority.

“I want to make becoming an artist so much easier, because it is really hard right now,” Yan said. “It’s expensive. You have to self-fund. People don’t appreciate the labor that goes into submitting for shows or just getting your name out there. So I personally want our gallery to be an even friendlier place for artists, and to do that we have to find other ways of funding. In addition to raising this big chunk of money just so that we’re sustainable, I’m also trying to transform where the avenues of funding come from.”

The 263 to $40k campaign was launched Sept. 19 and as of Monday was 22 percent of the way to its goal.

Gallery 263 will host its annual Foraged Fundraiser on Oct. 22 as part of the campaign. Last year the event – a home-cooked meal of foraged mushrooms served in the gallery by chef Paul Lang – sold out. Tickets are $100 for this year’s event, which includes a four-course, family-style vegetarian meal with locally foraged ingredients and two drinks. The food was gathered by gallery co-founder David Craft, author of the book “Urban Foraging.”