UPAF does not expect pre-pandemic return in 2022

Margaret Naczek | May 4, 2022

While arts groups were shuttered throughout 2020, the United Performing Arts Fund continued to raise upwards of $10 million to support the industry.

Though recovery has continued, CEO Patrick Rath does not expect 2022 to be a full rebound to pre-pandemic numbers for UPAF, which provides operating funds for 14 member groups as well as arts organizations throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, UPAF raised $11,938,426 in its 2019 fundraising campaign. In 2020, the organization was just under that with $11,358,241.

In 2021, UPAF set a fundraising goal of $10 million, lower than previous years to accommodate the reductions throughout the arts industry. UPAF surpassed that goal, raising $10,148,461.

"From a United Performing Arts Fund perspective, we met our goals and objectives, which were obviously less than in prior years. That was in large part due to the fact that there was a lot of uncertainty as we were heading into what would the workplace environment look like," he said. "We receive a significant percentage of our funds from those who give through the workplace."

Rath said the success of the 2021 fundraising campaign was largely a reflection of Milwaukee's great community support. In the month of August, UPAF did its Rally for Education, which spotlights how essential arts education is, particularly during the pandemic.

"We had some fantastic support both from sponsors that provided matched opportunities as well as individual donors who had never given before standing up and saying this is why the arts are important to me is because it means something for the kids in my community, for my grandchildren, for an environment where they can learn even better," Rath said.

He added that in the month of August, 50% of contributions coming into the organization were new gifts.

However, Rath does not believe UPAF will return to pre-pandemic fundraising levels in 2022.

"I think it’s very similar to what we experienced back in 2008 and the economic downturn. It took us five years to really grow back to our previous levels of giving," Rath said. "We hope to rebound faster than the five-year time frame. It just shows that there is a lot of priorities. There is still uncertainties that we’re living with."

UPAF supports 14 member groups of First Stage, Florentine Opera Company, Milwaukee Ballet, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Skylight Music Theatre. Members include Bel Canto Chorus, Black Arts MKE, Danceworks, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO), Next Act Theatre, Present Music and Renaissance Theaterworks.

Rath said one goal for 2022 is to build up UPAF's volunteer group in a new way. Previously, UPAF had welcomed various volunteers through different activities. Now, UPAF is organizing its 400-plus person volunteer base under a new initiative it is calling the UPAF Chorus Line.

Rath said Chorus Line volunteers will advocate and promote the performing arts in various ways, including hosting small gatherings and activities on social media.

"We’re looking to really expand this Chorus Line, which is our main volunteer effort," he said.

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