Eyeing the Future: Sculpture Tour Eau Claire needs fundraising boost to keep out of the red

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE. Workers install a piece of artwork for the 2016 Sculpture Tour Eau Claire.
NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE. Workers install a piece of artwork for the 2016 Sculpture Tour Eau Claire.

Sculpture Tour Eau Claire brought 36 works of art worth nearly half a million dollars to the city’s streets this year, which in turn has attracted the attention of thousands of visitors, residents, and other art lovers. What the Sculpture Tour didn’t bring, however, was enough money to keep the nonprofit organization in the black.

Currently, the tour is $30,000 to $40,000 short of its annual budget of $130,000, Executive Director Julie Pangallo said. While the budget shortfall can be met for the time being with funds from the tour’s endowment, that approach isn’t sustainable over the long term.

“We’re not the shiny new toy right now, so we’ve got to be the squeaky wheel.” – Julie Pangallo, executive director, Sculpture Tour Eau Claire

Pangallo said she doesn’t want to sound alarmist about the future of the tour, which will enter its eighth year this spring. “At the same time,” she said, “we want to say this is a treasure for the community, and we want to make sure it’s sustainable for the future.”

The Sculpture Tour Eau Claire is the largest of its kind in the state, with 42 pieces on temporary or permanent display in Eau Claire. (Thirty-six are part of the 2017-18 tour while six are People’s Choice winners from past tours that have been purchased for permanent display in town.) By contrast, a similar tour in Milwaukee includes just 22 sculptures.

To date, the tour has been sustained via donations, largely from site sponsors who underwrite individual sculptures. The tour also gets a commission for sales of the sculptures after the tour is finished. However, sales and donations have declined recently, Pangallo said. At the same time, expenses have rise: The tour pays a $1,000 stipend to each sculptor who allows his or her work to be displayed in Eau Claire for the yearlong tour, and the cost of shipping and insurance on the works of art has risen.

Furthermore, vandalism has become an increasing problem, with five incidents in the past year alone. Unsurprisingly, most of the vandalism occurs in the wee hours of the morning after bar closing time. Pangallo said the Sculpture Tour is working with a private donor, two security firms, and the city to get security cameras installed to keep an eye on all the sculptures.

Such rising expenses have led the Sculpture Tour to decide to be more assertive in fundraising. “What we’ve seen is a little donor fatigue in the market,” possibly because the Confluence Project has attracted millions of dollars from local philanthropists in the past few years, she added.

Pangallo emphasized that the Sculpture Tour does not begrudge the Confluence’s success. Instead, the tour’s board of directors has decided to embark on an ambitious fundraising campaign of its own. “We’re not the shiny new toy right now, so we’ve got to be the squeaky wheel,” Pangallo explained.

The tour’s goal is to raise $50,000 by the end of next June. U.S. Bank has made a $13,000 donation to kick off the campaign, and the tour’s leadership is planning other ways to fundraise. One event would be a walk along the tour’s route that would feature wine and appetizers at some of the sculptures. Another idea the tour is pursuing is the possibility of helping bring sculptures to Altoona’s growing River Prairie development. The tour also hopes to pursue more grants as well as to solicit more donations from members of the public, such as allowing them to donate from their mobile devices as they look at the sculptures.

Making Sculpture Tour Eau Claire more sustainable will help it meet its mission of providing free public art that promotes tourism, active lifestyles, economic development, social inclusion, local artists, and education, Pangallo said. While fundraising is always a challenge, she is optimistic about the tour’s future. “I think the community loves us,” she said. “We need to give them more opportunities to support us – individuals as well as businesses – and recognize that is important to our sustainability.”

Learn more about the Sculpture Tour Eau Claire and how you can support it at sculpturetour.org.