For 44 years, Intermedia Arts in south Minneapolis has served as a home for boundary-pushers of all kinds — dance, visual art, theater, music, film/video or spoken word — to sharpen their skills and raise their voices. The venue also doubled as a sanctuary for vulnerable populations, including immigrants, people of color and the LGBTQ community.
So it was a shock when Intermedia announced in September that it was laying off its entire staff and suspending operations in the face of a financial crisis.
There’s a cautionary tale here for other nonprofits that make up the most vibrant yet fragile cohort in Minnesota’s cultural scene — those with budgets between $500,000 and $2 million. With a pre-crisis annual budget of $1.4 million, Intermedia failed to cut spending even as it experienced a precipitous drop-off in grants and other contributed income. Simply put, it ran out of money.
The experience should have a sobering effect on other organizations that may have forgotten the lessons of the 2008 financial crash, which caused pain for arts groups large and small.
They could take a cue from the flagship Guthrie Theater, which managed to balance its budget last year despite a drop in ticket sales. “Fiscal responsibility is one of our core values,” Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj told the Star Tribune recently. “Our role as a not-for-profit is to make as much excellent art as we can within the financial rigors of what the budget can allow.”
Intermedia’s future is cloudy. The center’s board of directors said in December that they were putting its property in the hot Lyn-Lake area up for sale, which should fetch $1 million or more. Meanwhile they’re looking for community partners to take over some of its programs.