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Friday, December 6, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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PONCHO reduces recipients list, focuses efforts on larger groups

Seattle Times music critic

The latest round of belt-tightening in this region's arts community is hitting some smaller arts groups right in the budget: PONCHO has reduced its list of grant recipients from 46 last year to 35 for the current fiscal year.

"We had to make some hard decisions," says Carol Monroe, executive director of the venerable Seattle arts fund-raising organization that draws its money from a popular annual auction.

"We have less money than in previous years, such as 1999 and 2000, when we had $2 million to give out. Last year we had $1.5 million, and this year we're budgeting flat for the fiscal year ending in 2003, which is actually pretty aggressive in today's economy."

PONCHO (Patrons of Northwest Civic Cultural and Charitable Organizations) gave 2002 grants ranging in size from $2,425 to $197,298 to 46 groups.

Monroe said the decision to cut nine groups — including such companies as the Pat Graney Company, SEED (Southeast Effective Development Inc.) and UMO (Unidentified Moving Objects) — was based on a number of factors, from programs of the groups in question to more general size issues.

"The health of the majors is so critical, that's where we need to put our energy," Monroe said.

"The Seattle Symphony has a budget deficit of more than $700,000. This organization (PONCHO) was originally founded to help the symphony, and we feel an obligation to drive money to the majors."

Asked about what factors made the difference between keeping or dropping organizations that had historically received PONCHO funding, Monroe said, "There aren't really any specifics, any blanket statement. It was just case by case. Our committee reads everything and makes the best possible assessment. This doesn't mean we're discouraging midsize or smaller organizations from applying. Some of them we had brought in because of their arts education programs. Saying no to them isn't a pleasant message to hear, no matter how it gets said."

Elizabeth Crane, who directs Book-It Repertory Theatre, was one of the arts managers who got a letter from PONCHO saying their application would not result in an interview. Book-It, whose annual budget is $673,000, didn't receive PONCHO funding for 2002 because of a missed deadline, but the company had been given $3,000 the previous year.

"That may not sound like a lot of money," says Crane of the $3,000, "but it makes a big impact on our programming. We have to go back to our programs and see what can be cut: It might have to be a school residency or a staff position. I want the funding community to be aware of the reality for smaller organizations. We really do use those grants; they are significant to us.

"I absolutely understand PONCHO's perspective with respect to the majors. I know these are difficult times. But on a percentage basis, this kind of grant really counts."

PONCHO raised $1.2 million of its 2001-02 budget in last year's gala auction at the Sheraton Hotel, where more than 1,000 patrons and volunteers gathered for an event titled "Club Savoy." The 2003 Gala Auction will be May 10, 2003, at the Sheraton.

In addition, PONCHO hosted more than 350 local patrons of the arts at the 12th Annual Wine Auction, which raised $450,000 this past October at the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel. The 2003 PONCHO Wine Auction will be held Oct. 18, 2003, at the Four Seasons. A third event, an Art Auction of Northwest art, is set for April 25, 2003, at The Armory at South Lake Union Park.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com.

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