After a difficult spring and an S.O.S. call for funding, the Madame Walker Theatre Center has an interim CEO working to calm the waves as it celebrates its 85th anniversary. The week of events from November 9—15 includes a flapper-themed fundraising gala and casino night and a chance for community members to brainstorm on the future of Indiana Avenue.
Patrick E. Chavis IV, an attorney specializing in business consulting and a former judge pro tempore, stepped in at the Walker on a part-time basis in June to help fill the gap left by former CEO Terry Whitt Bailey, who left in December 2011.
Chavis says his diverse background in everything from finance to community, government, and labor relations to procurement and human resources has been helpful in working with the Walker’s board of directors to assess the organization. In August he became the full-time interim CEO. A search for a permanent CEO continues into 2013, and Chavis is throwing his hat in the ring.
“My perception coming in was that if you’ve survived 85 years, you have a good track record of figuring it out, somehow, some way,” said Chavis. He and the board are collaboratively developing a multifaceted business model for the Walker, with a more aggressive approach to programming, the use of the building’s rental space, and community partnerships to complement current support from individuals, corporations, and foundations.
“The good part about what’s been going on at the Walker is that the mindset of the organization has expanded,” said Chavis, noting that while it’s a vital community arts organization, there are many aspects to the legacy of the center, including entrepreneurship, education, and wellness.
Chavis and his staff are working to more proactively recruit rentals of the event and office space, and are discussing the creation of a business incubator and technology center with potential partners. In addition to the annual arts camp, Kamp Kuumba, staff are reaching out to charter schools, IPS and its Crispus Attucks Museum, and the IMA to diversify its education offerings. Wellness programs include weekly Zumba classes, and the center hopes to add Pilates and P90X to the roster.
Any increase in programming requires staff time and energy, and to compensate, the Walker added two new staff earlier this year in business development and event management. So how is the cash-strapped Walker managing all this? Chavis is utilizing volunteers wherever possible and working with the board to recruit partners who can offer expertise in areas the Walker needs, like marketing or grant acquisition, in exchange for services such as space rental, in order to help with cash flow.
Many of these initiatives are supported by program and project funds already built into the current budget, he explained, especially those for the anniversary. And as rental and programming activities grow, revenue increases accordingly. “The good thing we have going for us is that though cash flow can be a challenge at times, we do have assets that we’re able to utilize to help leverage our needs,” said Chavis.
As for the scenarios floated earlier this year, “The good news is that the worst case scenario didn’t happen. So there was not a layoff; there’s not going to be a closure,” said Chavis. But stabilizing the center’s infrastructure, including upgrading or repairing HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems, is still the first priority.
The plan is to use a combination of community fundraising, event revenue, and grants for historical buildings and energy savings to raise the $1 million needed. The organization hopes to raise this by spring 2013, and then to build a higher level of maintenance into the annual budget.
The board is also finishing a strategic planning process and will expand its numbers in 2013, adding a board member from IUPUI, a key supporting organization along with the Lilly Endowment. Other potential members will be recruited from core areas of need, including marketing, finance, non-profit administration, and real estate.
Organizational transparency still poses a challenge for the Walker. Chavis did not have fundraising figures available since the spring campaign began, but said this is partly because he is working with the board to determine how best to report all revenue streams to provide an overall picture of the organization’s finances. He also suggested that a snapshot following the anniversary fundraising made more sense, in order to distinguish between 2012 year-end figures and a new budget for 2013.
For the remainder of 2012, explained Chavis, “The theme is kind of a 'running start for 2013.’” The Walker board and staff are most excited to see what they can do to bring everyone in the community together. “Our goal is to tap into that potential. Don’t run from your uniqueness—tap into it,” he said.
85th Anniversary Celebration
Friday, Nov. 9
1927 Cotton Club Flapper Party in the Grand Casino Ballroom, featuring live big band, vintage cars, dancing, drinks and hors d'ouvres by Harry & Izzys. (7 p.m., $100)
Tuesday, Nov. 13
“Re-imagining the Future of Indiana Avenue,” an IndyTalks panel discussion featuring five presenters: Petra Slinkard, Project IMA; Derrick Braziel, Dreamapolis; DJ Rusty Redenbacher; artist LaShawnda Crowe Storm; and Tiffany Benedict Berkson, Historic Indianapolis. (6 p.m., donation requested)
Thursday, Nov. 15
Stormy Weather: The Lena Horne Project, featuring Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes, playing Lena Horne in a multimedia presentation including video footage and stories from Horne’s life. A VIP reception follows, and the Walker is catering to young professionals at the performance, offering members of IndyHub, Agave, FORTE, and Historic Indianapolis a private bar and free champagne in the balcony. (7 p.m., $30-75)
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