Edifice Complex

Building new cultural facilities is a risky business for Valley cities.

If you listen closely, beyond the din of new megamalls, hockey arenas and football stadiums, you'll hear the rumble of an approaching wave of culture.

To the east, Mesa is expanding the Arizona Museum for Youth at a cost of nearly $3 million and adding a voter-approved $92 million arts center. Tempe is about to select architects for a $35 million arts center of its own.

Scottsdale, the region's perennial culture queen, is mulling additions, as yet unpriced, of a satellite art center to serve its booming population up north. Five or six new performing arts theaters are likely along its downtown canal.

Joanie Flatt, Mesa's Woman of the Year, is a leading supporter of the city's proposed new $92 million art center.
Paolo Vescia
Joanie Flatt, Mesa's Woman of the Year, is a leading supporter of the city's proposed new $92 million art center.
Income from blockbusters like the Norman Rockwell exhibition has given Phoenix Art Museum's director, James Ballinger, plenty to smile about in recent years.
Paolo Vescia
Income from blockbusters like the Norman Rockwell exhibition has given Phoenix Art Museum's director, James Ballinger, plenty to smile about in recent years.
Matthew Wiener, producing artistic director of Actors Theatre of Phoenix.
Paolo Vescia
Matthew Wiener, producing artistic director of Actors Theatre of Phoenix.
Myra Millinger, associate director of the Flinn Foundation, says that many arts organizations still struggle for funding and audiences.
Paolo Vescia
Myra Millinger, associate director of the Flinn Foundation, says that many arts organizations still struggle for funding and audiences.
Rusty Foley, director of community affairs at Salt River Project, says changes in the corporate world threaten to stagnate the Valley's cultural growth.
Paolo Vescia
Rusty Foley, director of community affairs at Salt River Project, says changes in the corporate world threaten to stagnate the Valley's cultural growth.
David Hempfill, director of the Phoenix-based Black Theatre Troupe.
Paolo Vescia
David Hempfill, director of the Phoenix-based Black Theatre Troupe.
Phoenix's Herberger Theater competes against its resident performers for operating cash.
Paolo Vescia
Phoenix's Herberger Theater competes against its resident performers for operating cash.

Phoenix is hardly a slacker. Its March 13 bond election includes a $66 million slate of cultural improvements that would, among other things, provide needed expansions of the Arizona Science Center, Phoenix Art Museum and Phoenix Theatre, and long-overdue renovations of downtown's Symphony Hall, Community Arts Center, and Carver Museum and Cultural Center. A brand-new "family museum" is also being proposed for the cultural row along Seventh Street, just beyond the northern shadow of Bank One Ballpark.

This tide of edifice planning and building has been rising here over the past dozen years. It has deposited the Science Center, Phoenix History Museum and ASU museum into their concrete homes.

It raised Phoenix's copper-and-glass-wrapped Central Library and Scottsdale's steel-clad Museum of Contemporary Art. It gave Pueblo Grande Museum new galleries, Phoenix Art Museum its big green wall and soaring interior halls, and expanded the Heard Museum into an impressive complex of studios, galleries and a store.

The approximately $200 million in proposed enhancements may not have the singular splash of a $331 million gridiron. But its breadth should help finish off the lingering joke about the difference between yogurt and Phoenix (culture), and give people a reason to think that the Valley is finally beginning to act its size and age.

"When you look at major cities in the world," says Matthew Wiener, producing artistic director of Actors Theatre of Phoenix, "they're known for their cultural amenities. This is what good cities do. They build these things. And they use them."

To what extent these facilities will be used in a region that traditionally has preferred to find its culture outdoors, in sports arenas or at a mall remains to be seen. What's clear is that they're arriving at a time of tremendous change affecting museums and cultural groups.

More money is flowing in from some new sources.

For many years, Phoenix's cultural institutions came second in the hearts of wealthy snowbirds who did most of their giving back home. But arts officials say that as transplanted patrons have settled in and begun vying for local institutional attention, they've begun reaching into their pockets and their collections.

Stephane Janssen, a European transplant by way of California, has made generous donations to ASU's art museum. Collectors Sara and David Lieberman, Stephen and Gail Rineberg and other migrants from older, colder Midwestern cities have done the same for the Scottsdale Cultural Council and the Phoenix Art Museum.

In the past few years, some longtime local public and private benefactors have also upped their involvement and investments.

The Arizona Commission on the Arts is building its own endowment, called ArtShare, of more than $20 million to assist the state's increasing number of nonprofit arts groups -- estimated at between 300 and 400.

Virginia Ullman contributed $1 million for a new gallery at the Heard Museum, and another sizeable sum to the Phoenix Art Museum for a new room dedicated to the work of the late Scottsdale painter Philip Curtis.

Kax Herberger, in one of the largest private gifts ever given to a local cultural institution, endowed Arizona State University's College of Fine Arts with $12 million, fortifying the school's position as the region's most active arts incubator.

Next fall, the Virginia G. Piper Trust will begin awarding about $30 million in annual grants for a range of cultural and social-service causes in Maricopa County.

But despite these encouraging signs, there's growing concern over whether the region's institutions, old and new, will be able to attract the patronage and audiences they need to stay in business and expand their audiences without abandoning experimental work.

"It is fairly easy to get caught up in the excitement of 'Build it and they will come,'" says Myra Millinger, associate director of the Flinn Foundation, which has been instrumental in cultural growth here. "Every city wants a facility. What they may not have in place is an understanding of what it takes to operate those facilities and an effective plan to do it."

Millinger supports the Phoenix bond and other local efforts to build more cultural venues. Yet she and others in the philanthropy business are worried the proposed new venues may not be able to count on the level of corporate support that existing institutions have enjoyed.

In the past year or two, the frenzied pace of corporate mergers and buyouts has depleted the ranks of business leaders who've traditionally advanced the region's public and private support of culture. These changes are rapidly turning Phoenix into a pit stop for CEOs on the corporate climb.

Rusty Foley, director of community affairs at Salt River Project, sees this pattern of corporate retreat as "a very serious issue, not only for the arts organizations but for the entire nonprofit community in the Phoenix area and state."

Millinger points out that new corporate execs don't stay long enough to truly understand the arts institutions. "Even more importantly, they're not here long enough to develop a sense of commitment."

Some proposed projects don't take into account the flurry of arts facilities going up throughout the Valley.

The proposed new Phoenix Family Museum will compete directly for audiences and what the philanthropic world characterizes as "kids bucks" against the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa and the Arizona Science Center, barely a stone's throw from the new museum's proposed location on Seventh Street. (See "O Children, Where Art Thou?" on page 33.)

In Mesa, Tempe and Scottsdale, plans for new art facilities are booming along on the basis of feasibility studies that no longer accurately reflect the Valley's increasingly competitive cultural landscape.

Mesa's plan for four theaters, for example, was formulated before Tempe came up with a plan for two of its own. Neither plan takes into account the possibility that Scottsdale may add as many as six theaters.

Supporters say that the region's booming population will provide plenty of customers for the healthy cultural future that's anticipated in the proposals.

David Hempfill, who heads the Phoenix-based Black Theatre Troupe, which performs Valleywide, says that arts groups can't count on population growth alone to provide the gate.

"The fact is," he says, "theater is not a big priority here. The hindrance runs from MTV to all the other things families can do instead."

What's valued are recreational opportunities, says Matthew Wiener. "It's always so nice here. People are outside. They go hiking all the time. They play golf all the time. There's an aesthetic about going out and being outside."

And even the Southwest's cultural season -- when the major exhibitions occur, the galleries are open, the plays and performances are on -- runs from September through May, when people prefer to be outdoors.

These factors affect the ability of organizations not only to bring in the crowds, but also to bring in the needed operating cash.

"There's this misperception that it's as easy to fund raise for arts groups as it is for the disease of the month," says Jody Ulich, Tempe's director of cultural services. "But even in these good economic times, it's extremely difficult to fund raise for the arts and create strong, viable organizations.

"Four or five years ago, the Arizona Theatre Company was doing curtain calls, saying if [they] don't get money they would have to close. The Ballet was doing that curtain call last year."

Ballet Arizona was saved by a $100,000 donation from patron Carol Whiteman. "But she can't do it alone," says Millinger, whose foundation has invested about $1.3 million in the Ballet in the past 15 years.

The problems go deeper than cash. Nonprofit arts organizations simply don't make enough on ticket sales to survive. They need help from the government, corporations, foundations and the public.

"They're not a business," says Marvin Cohen, who formerly headed the Arizona Commission on the Arts and now sits on the board of the Arizona Theatre Company. "A lot of businesspeople come onto the boards of these organizations and say, 'Gee, you're not making a profit; what's wrong here?' The fact is that none of these companies function with more than 50 percent or 60 percent earned income. They have to raise the rest through grants and contributions."

Last year, the Phoenix Arts Commission's grants program invested $742,000 in 129 organizations. Tempe gave $55,000 to ChildsPlay, a group that presents children's theater. Scottsdale contributed more than $2 million to the Scottsdale Cultural Council, the cultural nonprofit it formed in 1987 to oversee its cultural affairs. The Arizona Commission on the Arts awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars. Corporations and foundations have contributed millions of dollars more.

Despite these investments, says Judy Mohraz, president and CEO of the Piper Trust, which has been holding discussions with arts groups to determine how the foundation should focus its cultural support, "even the most financially stable organizations are still weak. They simply do not have the financial standing that institutions of their stature have in other areas of the country."


Newcomers to Phoenix may never fully appreciate just how much and how quickly the idea that culture is essential to quality of urban life has grown here in the past 15 years.

Once seen merely as a diversion for the few, it has emerged as a reliable vehicle -- right up there with professional sports -- for redefining and advancing civic identity.

When Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano dreams of the art center the city's planning to put near Rio Salado, he envisions the Sydney -- as in Australia -- Opera House, a prestigious landmark of civic vitality thrusting its prow out over the water.

To Mesa boosters, the city's proposed new arts complex, with studios, theaters, galleries, shaded walks and open-air amphitheaters, won't be anything like the aging school that now houses those facilities.

"The center will bring a new heart to the downtown area," says Joanie Flatt, the city's Woman of the Year and a leading advocate of the arts complex. "It will bring a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of pride. It will completely rejuvenate the downtown with a wow factor that makes your heart stick in your throat."

Community leaders didn't always have cause to say such things. But the evidence that culture -- in all of its forms -- is good for business is scattered all over the region's map.

"My guess is that the arts in the state of Arizona are probably a billion-dollar business annually," says James Ballinger, director of the Phoenix Art Museum. "And my guess is nobody knows that."

The arts constitute an array of professions, hobbies and institutions that extend from easy-to-identify museums and theaters to stores, galleries, symphonies, theaters and design and architectural firms.

"The perception of cultural groups is that we're nice things to have but we may not be an important part of the community," says Ballinger.

This was especially true in the 1980s, before the cultural boom here began.

In those days before Phoenix had a downtown to go to, Scottsdale was about the only locale that gave culture a choice seat at the municipal table.

The rest of the cities squeezed their culture into an assortment of dreary confines.

Phoenix was the only one of the nation's top 20 metropolitan areas without a substantial science center or museum of natural history. Its downtown Science Center was housed in a dark storefront along Adams Street, with little room for specialized exhibitions or storage.

Phoenix Art Museum had its own building. But its tallest galleries were only 11 feet -- too short to accommodate many major touring exhibitions, which often need 15 to 30 feet of head room.

ASU's art museum was similarly shoehorned into the school's old library at Matthews Center.

Urban theorist and writer Neil Pierce surveyed the depressing scene at the time and characterized the region's evident scorn for high arts as a rejection of "what Western Civilization for centuries has found to be one of the great frontiers of the human spirit."

Without a substantial investment in culture, he wrote, Phoenix was "turning its back on its chance to become a world class city."

Pierce's indictment contributed to a growing sense that Phoenix was losing cultural -- and business -- ground to other cities. It also helped fuel efforts by then-mayor Terry Goddard and other leaders to pass what still stands as one of the most ambitious, and successful, cultural bond campaigns in the nation.

"Without that, we just wouldn't have the downtown we now do," says Henry Sargent, an executive vice president of Pinnacle West, the parent company of Arizona Public Service, who chaired the cultural steering committee of the bonds.

The $1 billion package included police and fire operations, storm sewers, streets and community centers.

But it was the $200 million worth of new and improved cultural institutions, parks and libraries that became the most visible evidence of what the voters had done. They bought a new Central Library, a new Science Center and a new Phoenix Museum of History. They expanded the Art Museum, Pueblo Grande and Phoenix Theatre, and helped to bring the old Orpheum Theatre out of mothballs.

In 1988, the bond campaign theme was "Making Phoenix Great."

These new edifices brought more than simply civic wow. They provided essential upgrades that enabled such institutions as the Art Museum and Science Center to undertake exhibitions that were previously impossible.

"The fact is business wouldn't operate if its factory equipment were allowed to erode," says Myra Millinger. "That's the equation in this. These bonds provide vital improvements that would be difficult to fund in any other way."

This year's bond package -- the campaign slogan is "No New Taxes" -- would continue to upgrade the equipment.

Its $18.5 million for Symphony Hall would sharpen the technical edge that modern symphony spaces need to produce sound well.

The $18.2 million for PAM would complete the expansion begun with the $17.5 million in 1988 bond money, giving it a sculpture garden in the museum's courtyard and the necessary interior space to exhibit its collection of modern art, half of which sits in storage.

An additional $4.9 million would give the Science Center the space to run special and permanent exhibitions simultaneously. At the moment, it has to partially remove displays that schools rely on as part of their science curriculum whenever special exhibitions arrive.

These infusions of public money can be extraordinary boons for public institutions, and not only for the new digs they help fund.

They can act as a civic stamp of approval, assuring corporate and private donors that they won't be the only ones supporting the institution's growth.

The 1988 bond money required the institutions to pony up an amount of matching funds. The Science Center and Art Museum were able to make the most of that, generating close to $20 million each in private money, which was poured back into the buildings and programs.

The Art Museum's big new galleries have given it the flexibility to bring in blockbuster exhibitions, which in turn have generated a widening stream of revenue for marketing and other business basics.

"I'd like to think that our success in the arts and in culture floats all of the boats higher," says James Ballinger. But the reality, he says, is that "smaller arts organizations, which are most of the arts groups, don't have the opportunity to do these things."


Arts organizations are constantly on the brink of failure.

Their plight surfaces in the headlines whenever a city has to give a theater company $100,000 to meet its payroll, as Phoenix did for Phoenix Theatre a few weeks back.

The Phoenix Art Museum and a number of other cultural nonprofits owe their survival to a combination of business practices that were instilled by the National Arts Stabilization program.

Begun here in 1986 as a joint venture of the Flinn Foundation and business leaders, it infused PAM, the Phoenix Symphony, Arizona Theatre Company and a handful of the state's other top arts groups with the funds and savvy to run viable businesses.

"What we began to realize," says Millinger, "was that even the largest organizations didn't have in place the financial forecasting and business practices that members of their own boards practice in their own professional lives."

Too many organizations had no rolling financial projections, no long-range plans, no ability to think three or four steps ahead of the crisis of the moment.

"The idea was to get organizations beyond this survival level," she says, "so they could genuinely begin to look ahead."

Arizona's stabilization effort was an offshoot of a national program funded by the Ford, Rockefeller and Mellon Foundations.

That program had evolved from the ashes of one of the most expensive failures in American arts philanthropy.

In the 1960s, the Ford Foundation, then the nation's largest single supporter of the arts, was pouring millions of dollars into major ballets and theaters across the country. But the money didn't prevent the arts groups from constantly collapsing in cashless heaps.

So Ford set out to cure the cash flow problems by developing endowments, the interest from which could provide rainy-day operational money for arts groups.

The foundation challenged approximately 60 orchestras, including the Phoenix Symphony, to raise pots of new cash to match the foundation's initial contribution of $80.2 million. The challenge was a roaring success. Orchestra patrons all over the nation kicked in another $84 million. But even those gargantuan sums weren't enough.

Millinger recalls that as one financial crisis followed another, most of the orchestras began piling up losses and eating their reserves just to meet operating expenses. By 1976, most of the orchestras had devoured their share of what amounted to more than $200 million.

The chief problem was that too many of the groups carried too much debt -- sometimes amounting to 25 percent or more of their total budgets.

Instead of giving up, Ford devised a two-pronged approach to kill the debts while simultaneously helping the groups build a reserve fund.

"The idea," says Millinger, "was to give the groups a way to temporarily borrow from themselves, rather than run up more debt by turning to the banks."

The rule was that all the borrowed cash had to be replenished.

In exchange for this kind of fiscal discipline, Ford erased the groups' debts, invested in a cash reserve and, over a period of five to seven years, brought in platoons of experts to beef up the organizations' business savvy.

The program was so successful that, in the early 1980s, Ford teamed with Mellon and Rockefeller to launch the national stabilization program.

Instead of funding one institution at a time, they created a pool of about $9 million and went after clusters of organizations in communities that could muster local support.

Boston and Kansas City were the first two sites. Arizona was the third.

Arizona was the National Arts Stabilization's only statewide effort, and the only one carried out without using any public money.

"There would have been no way to get the public sector to participate here without risking the monies that were then going to the state commission," says Millinger.

Yet the effort was fairly easy to sell to Howard McCready, Gordon Murphy and other prominent business leaders who were all too accustomed to receiving Friday afternoon phone calls from arts groups trying to make their payrolls.

Flinn officials initially thought the program, which included the Phoenix Symphony, Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona Theatre Company and five other of the state's largest arts organizations, might cost about $400,000. But forensic-style analyses of the organizations' finances recommended a cost of about $4.5 million. It wound up totaling $5.7 million, split three ways among the National Arts Stabilization, the Flinn and business.

"The impact of Arts Stabilization was phenomenal," says Ken Husband, an accountant who's on the board of Arizonans for Cultural Development, a statewide arts lobby, and heads the Phoenix Art Museum's planned giving program. "They came in and selected institutions that were not just wonderful ideas in our hearts, but had track records and showed some financial stability. Basically, they forced these institutions into being good businesspeople."

The program compelled the organizations to take a candid, global look at themselves, assessing everything from finances, programs and future plans to how they selected and ran their boards, and compared them with other arts organizations.

"I've sat on a number of boards of cultural institutions around town," says Husband, "and these were thought processes that a lot of arts people just hadn't gone through before."

The program left local arts leaders chanting a new mantra: cash reserve.

James Ballinger says the five-year program, which came shortly before the museum's expansion began in 1994, helped the museum zero in on the inevitable financial pressures of the new building.

"We knew the budget was going to jump," he says. "But we also knew that we were getting to a size and had enough varied talents, resources and abilities on our staff that we could begin looking a little bit further out on the horizon. We were outgrowing the survival mode, where things are literally so tight that you don't have time to think three, four, five moves out. You're probably just looking at this one and the next one."

Arizona Theatre Company's Jessica Andrews says that the program helped ATC develop essential methods for balancing the difficult cycles of cash drains and flows that constantly threaten to take arts organizations to the brink.

"People assume, 'Oh, you've got a $6 million budget. You'll be fine.' But if you don't watch your every bottom line, you can quickly become not fine. It's easy to spend money and eat into your cash reserve if you're not careful.

"Any time we get off course, we're going to take steps to rectify that. Or we'll be back in a place where we have no reserve, we have no hopes for endowment. And we're racking up deficits and then we're done."


Most people on their way from cheap parking to the downtown baseball stadium or Suns games know the Herberger Theater, at the corner of Third Street and Monroe, as the place with all the bronze sculptures of frolicking nude dancers. But arts funders know it as the Valley's most visible lesson in how not to build an edifice.

"The dream was to build a theater and then have an endowment to pay for the cost of presenting the performing arts," says Marvin Cohen, who chaired the Herberger board for a time in the early 1990s. "It was a wonderful dream. The problem is they couldn't raise enough to build the building, let alone the endowment."

In what has become a painfully familiar sort of cultural trickle down, the Herberger, which opened in 1989, couldn't pay off the banks. In the early 1990s, the city came to the rescue, pumping $2.3 million into the facility and paying off nearly $7 million in bank loans. The banks forgave portions of other loans. And the theater, which operates as a cultural nonprofit organization, now vies with its tenants, the performing arts groups it was created to serve, for the same limited philanthropic pot of annual operating cash.

"That's called cannibalizing the donor base," says Joe Hill, a cultural specialist with AEA Consulting in New York, which advises arts institutions and philanthropies worldwide. "It goes on all the time, but it isn't a healthy kind of competition."

As the phrase suggests, it forces the theater to cut into its own supposed mission and chew on the weak financial roots of the organizations it was created to serve.

Herberger opened with the promise of offering cut-rate rents to its groups. But lacking an endowment to defray its own operations, it has had to charge near market-rate fees.

To make matters worse, the competition didn't end at money when the Herberger opened.

To fill its own nonprofit board, the theater essentially raided members from the board of Arizona Theatre Company (ATC), one of its prime tenants.

"That was not a good way to start the relationship," says Cohen, who now sits on ATC's board. "We changed the policy that kept people from serving simultaneously on both boards. But it's hard to deal with old wounds."

This scenario could easily be repeated in Mesa, where the city expects a citizens' group, the Mesa Arts and Entertainment Alliance, to raise about $2.7 million to complete two of its art center's four theaters.

As it turns out, the two theaters the city is not fully funding are, in fact, the ones local arts organizations need. The other two theaters are considerably larger and are intended to draw a mix of popular and classical performances. They are being fully funded because the city wants to build the more expensive facilities while it can.

As in Tempe, Mesa is paying for the new art center with a slice of sales tax. The alliance plans to supplement the center's city-funded operating budget by raising a $1 million endowment.

"That's never been done before at that level in Mesa," says Joanie Flatt, "but I'm not worried."

But she concedes that officials at the Mesa Symphony, which depends on the same donors the alliance will probably be chasing, are concerned about potential fund-raising conflicts.

Flatt says no one knows yet what the community's capacity to give might be, or how much will come from individuals, corporations and foundations.

What's known is that planning for the center is steaming ahead at a time when the city is considering citywide budget cuts of up to 9 percent.

Flatt and other supporters say they're not worried about that either, that the revenues for the future center are protected because they come from a dedicated portion of sales tax.

However, Gerry Gerber, Mesa's arts and cultural director, says budget cuts could hurt plans to expand programs to fit the new facility.

Arts industry observers say privately that Mesa is overbuilding to put its downtown on the map. The new art center will be joining a $23 million aquatics center downtown.

But supporters of the art facility aren't about to second-guess their dream. Flatt thinks the complex will attract about a million people a year.

"Even if cities do overbuild," says Mesa Vice Mayor Jim Davidson, "why not have some optimism that when we build it, they truly will come?"


The weathered bronze bust of banker Walter Bimson in the sandy courtyard of the Phoenix Art Museum has always had the unfortunate appearance of a man half-stuck in concrete. Yet lately it seems to be more a man stuck in time -- a model of the lifelong community leader and benefactor that's becoming increasingly rare in today's corporate world.

Once the head of Valley National Bank, and chair of the museum's board, he was the kind of business stalwart that artists and cultural institutions could count on in a pinch.

"He had the power to make things happen," says Ken Husband, "because he had been building relationships in the community for 30 or 40 years.

"That's all changed. When you've got the CEO of the year and he comes into town with the primary responsibility of getting earnings up well enough that in three years he can go on to Los Angeles, it's very hard to develop those relationships."

Nearly everyone in the nonprofit world agrees that the corporate churning of recent years has complicated the already tough job of cultural fund raising and lobbying. The dimensions of the problem are still uncertain.

"It's a moving target," says Tom Browning, who heads Greater Phoenix Leadership (formerly the Phoenix 40), a collection of top business leaders. What's clear, he says, is "Phoenix is really becoming a whistle stop on the way to the top."

The recent departure of Bank One president Mike Wellborn for Chicago and upcoming transfer of Wells Fargo/Norwest president John Campbell to Minneapolis are removing leaders who have been essential supporters of a broad range of cultural and other community programs.

"When we have a Mike Wellborn or a Jon Campbell leave a community, it takes a while for their replacement to get settled into their position," Browning says. "So there's a lull in the company's presence. And their replacement may not be as committed to the same causes."

That commitment has been an essential part of the region's cultural boom.

Mark DeMichele, then head of Arizona Public Service Company, championed the passage of the state's ArtShare endowment at the state legislature in 1996. He and numerous other business leaders also threw their substantial civic weight behind the 1988 Phoenix bond campaign.

Millinger points out that the arts stabilization program might never have succeeded without backing from Howard McCready, former chairman of Valley National Bank, and Gordon Murphy, the executive director of the Arizona Bankers Association.

"Howard was very selective about the projects he took on," Millinger says. "So when people saw him talking about stabilization, something that was complex and not easy to fit into a sound bite, they paid attention. His presence brought many other business leaders to the table.

"There are people here who have come after Howard who could do the same thing, but right now, with the tremendous churning, mergers and retirements, there are very few people I'd know to call."

Recent consolidations may have produced larger companies, but not larger pots of philanthropic money.

When Wells Fargo and Norwest banks merged, for example, the Scottsdale Cultural Council, and many other nonprofits that received bank support, lost one corporate donor.

"There's only one check now," says Randy Schilling, development director at the SCC. "And it's not any bigger than it was from just one of those organizations before. So basically, we lost a contribution of between $5,000 and $10,000."

That's not a particularly large chunk of the $500,000 that corporations contribute to the center's overall budget of about $9 million. But for smaller organizations, such hits can be significant.

Corporate contributions to Actors Theatre of Phoenix, whose overall budget is $1.2 million, dropped by $50,000 to $100,000 this year.

The overall tone of corporate giving has also changed.

"You don't hear much about the greater good anymore," says Dave Howell, former head of corporate giving at Bank of America, and now vice president of marketing at the American Graduate School of International Management. "A lot of the giving now comes from a pool of money that's dedicated to marketing."

This emphasis poses problems for smaller organizations, programs or exhibitions without mass appeal. The arts cash flow is also much more vulnerable to what Howell characterizes as the "whims of business change."

That can make it especially tough for organizations to get money for contemporary art, he says. "To fund that, you really need a champion, someone who shares the passion and can see a vision beyond the corporation's bottom line."

Ballinger says the commotion about corporate leadership is nothing new. It erupted seven or eight years ago when big companies reshuffled their upper decks and the museum board lost some key players.

"We bemoaned that leadership drain," he says. "But when the new people came in, they got their feet wet, they helped out and took on their roles."

Yet he and others agree that if a new model of community leadership does emerge, it may not follow the same good old boy network that most cultural institutions have counted on.

It may come from the high-tech start-up crowd.

"We've got a lot of that invisible economy here -- the high-growth, new-economy-type firms," says Mary Jo Waites, director of ASU's Morrison Institute. "Those CEOs are generally focused on their business. They're not as visible yet in the community and we don't really know how to find them or get them involved."

She says that in Austin, Silicon Valley and other start-up hot spots, successful consortiums of small businesses have formed to get the new business leaders involved.

"These guys are running five, 10, 20 or 100 employees, and they're working 18 hours a day," says Ed Denison, president of AZSOFT.net, a local trade association of about 450 software and Internet companies. "They're in a death race, trying to get that product to market before five other competitors come in, and before whatever capital they've raised runs out."

The association has begun talking to the Arizona Commission on the Arts about getting its members involved in cultural support, possibly through the contribution of company stock.

"They want to be good corporate citizens if you can make it easy for them," says Denison. "They just don't have much time to put a lot of energy or activity into it."

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