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Why did the income and expense statement start seeing a therapist?

Because it couldn't find the right balance.

Among my eclectic mix of creative side hustles is comedy. Yet what's happening right now in the creative nonprofit sector? Not much funny to be found in the losses.

With each passing month "post-pandemic," Twin Cities creatives are being hit with bad news. Pollen, which hosted events and provided narrative storytelling services, is sunsetting. Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts ended its performance season early and is ceasing operations. Due to road construction, the Uptown Art Fair is canceled this year. And now the Guthrie is reporting a $3.8 million deficit, the largest in the theater's history.

There are more than 30,000 nonprofits in Minnesota, a third of which employ nearly 400,000 people in our state. Of those considered financially active (with annual incomes of over $25,000), 9% are creative and cultural organizations that serve as connectors in our community.

In my role as a creative placemaking program officer at Local Initiatives Support Corporation, I have the honor of working with cultural and creative districts in the metro area. Arts and cultural organizations are an integral part of what makes their districts special and helps their local economies thrive.

Arts groups and theaters were among the first to suspend programming during the pandemic, among the hardest hit in terms of revenue losses, and among the last to reopen. Ticket sales and event revenue have not returned to their pre-pandemic levels and grant funding remains competitive.

The impact of these constraints is becoming increasingly apparent. Most of the closures are not because the need for programming is gone. Every organization and program has its own unique story of how these things transpire. For many, the revenue instability is not sustainable. Many workers, in turn, are swimming, wading and jumping ship to other sectors. With added burdens like less funding and more scrutiny that are placed on leaders of color in particular, it's a tricky recipe indeed. We're losing the best in our field, and it's not funny.

What do grant writing and Game of Thrones have in common?

The fierce competition among nonprofits for funding?

Nah. I'm just a few pages in, and I am already tired of counting characters.

How did the once-darlings of the funding world fall quickly out of the graces of foundations, the very ones who ask applicants questions about sustainability?

It's puzzling to organizations when funders ask nonprofits to report on their history of service to community, yet turn away during the critical moments of community change when their funding is most direly needed.

We're demanding innovation and change among our nonprofits without the funding support to back up those requests. We're requiring leaders to lead through crisis, recover and move ahead without providing enough funding for transition and change, not to mention the healing and recovery of staff. It's an impossible order to fill, and nonprofit staff are contorting themselves in an effort to achieve these requests. Other leaders in the sector are sounding similar alarms. Are we paying attention?

How many nonprofit FTEs does it take to change a light bulb?

Well actually, what you're going to need is two consultants, a legal review, a change theory, and an intern to hold the ladder. Is that an incandescent? That's a historic bulb, which flags this for a section 105 review. Do we fund that? Ha! No.

Building out successful teams to change all our hypothetical light bulbs continues to be, by and large, relational work. But relational work in the community can have layers of complication, especially when the going gets tough as it has the past four years in Minnesota. Burn a bridge in this area? Good luck getting another interview here. New to the Twin Cities? Have fun establishing a social network.

When I moved to the area, this advice given to me held true, at first: "Minnesotans will give you directions anywhere — except to their house." But with care, time and the right systems in place, it can happen. For me, it was the creative sector that was the catalyst. Arts organizations and groups like Pollen help nurture soil where relationships can bloom naturally and run threads through the community to help stitch people together. Pollen served as a highly visible facilitator that, true to its name, pollinated the seeds of connection within our community.

Over the years my relationship with Pollen ran the gamut — as a donor, client, creative contributor and, perhaps most personally impactfully, regular attendee of events. While traditional networking felt too schmoozy, connecting with Pollenites could be done within shy nerdy reach, 140 characters at a time.

A healthy garden of relationships can broaden our perspective, deepen our program work and make a skilled, well-rounded team possible. But those activities that make the relationship side of the work accessible for regular folk are hard to quantify, tricky to fund and harder to make "sustainable" year to year.

The creative nonprofits of Minnesota house much of this activity. Measures in annual reports quantify things like the number of performances staged or the number of shows exhibited, but how do we quantify the relational aspect of all that programming? There's no space on the 990 to track who ran into each other in the lobby and decided to grab a coffee.

Though we don't track it, there is value in those in-between spaces. The beauty of relational work is not unlike the aurora borealis many of us spent the past weekend chasing. We sought to capture in image form the spectacle of light raining over, down and around us. Was the miracle captured in the Instagrammable photo, or was it the moment that stitched us together for a needle in time? And still, we chased northern lights even as our own duly named overnight arts festival — Northern Spark — poetically drew its activity to a close. We are ever hungry for those ephemeral acts of spontaneous beauty.

Creative and cultural nonprofits continue to be bruised and battered from 2020. We're quickly running out of stitch fixes to keep everything held together. Do we value those that make connection within reach? Are we doing enough to support the leaders that hold the work carefully, mindfully, even as it's crumbling? What, if anything, will replace the stages turned shops, the venues turned pharmacies, the organizations like Pollen that simply, quietly, close?

In speaking with Pollen staff, for some it wasn't necessarily the side critiques or closure itself that have been the most painful parts. It was the deafening silence when support was most needed.

We don't have to make that mistake every time.

There is hope. Art-A-Whirl is this weekend. TaikoArts Midwest purchased its own building. The Little Mekong Night Market will come back this summer. I hope they sustain the support they need to thrive and continue on.

Why was the accountant so happy?

Because they were so good at counting their blessings!

Our artists as well as our cultural and creative organizations are among the blessings of our region. Let's make sure we count them as such.

Jamie Kalakaru-Mava, @purenoumena, is an author and artist who lives in Bloomington.