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Recovery plan cementing pieces of the Pittsburgh Glass Center

Post Time:Aug 12,2009Classify:Industry NewsView:312

Charlie Humphrey, the fixer of financially broken nonprofit groups, appears to be gluing back the pieces of the once-financially fragile Pittsburgh Glass Center.

"It´s certainly true we´re doing a lot better than a year ago and much better than two years ago," said Humphrey, executive director of the center — one of two hats he wears. He also serves as executive director of merged Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

This is not the first time Humphrey has performed magic on a group´s finances. He rescued the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, which had more serious financial problems. The merger of the two organizations enabled the center for the arts to save money on public relations, design and printing costs and consultants.

Established in Friendship in 2001, the glass center offers classes, a gallery, demonstrations and facilities for artists. It was on the brink of going bust when Humphrey took over as acting chief executive in November 2007.

He presented a recovery plan that drastically cut expenses, increased earned revenue from classes, reduced its debt and wooed nearly $1 million from foundations in 2007 and 2008 to tide it over.

"The way I look at it is," he said, "the Glass Center took the hard medicine before the bottom dropped out of the economy. A lot of the measures that other organizations took in the last eight to 12 months, we took two years ago."

The center posted operating deficits of $53,631 in 2007 and $133,605 in 2006, according to its federal tax returns. Humphrey said the center finished $95,000 in the black in 2008 and expects another balanced budget this year.

"It shows a significant reduction in costs — from a $1.3 million budget to $1 million," said David Donahoe, executive director of the Allegheny Regional Asset District. "The center has made progress on the goals originally set."

RAD had approved a $30,000 grant for this year, and the Glass Center is asking it for $50,000 to cover operations in 2010.

The biggest cost savings — $1,000 a month on natural gas — came after having one of the Glass Center´s two half-ton furnaces rebuilt, Humphrey said. The furnaces, used for glassmaking and run even in the summer except for maintenance, take 12 to 14 days to turn off and the same time to turn back on.

Top staff took pay cuts, a vacant position wasn´t filled and employees were required to pay a portion of their health insurance.

Donahoe also praised a jump in earned revenue — from $317,604 in fiscal 2007 to $380,104 in fiscal 2008. That money mostly comes from classes, workshops, membership dues and rentals.

Increasing earned revenue is important for nonprofit groups, Donahoe said, because they have more control over that than contributions — especially during economic downturns.

"My impression is there´s a much better situation," said Mitch Swain, executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. "Charlie Humphrey is a noted expert in helping organizations."

He also paid off $200,000 borrowed through a line of credit and hopes to pay off the remaining $100,000 by this time next year.

The number of students has doubled from 407 in 2006 to 885 in 2008, according to its RAD application. The center was able to do that by offering more activities at cheaper prices, Humphrey said.

Michele Bornstein, 20, has been traveling from Bethesda, Md., — at first with her father, now alone — to take classes at the Glass Center for the past five summers.

"The studio is incredible," she said. "They offer a lot of great classes with world-renown artists."

She is taking a class now with Czech artist Martin Janecky. As students blow and manipulate the glass to blaring rock music, an open furnace glows orange at 2,200 degrees.

In another studio, Rocky Kindelberger, 61, of Export in Westmoreland County makes a glass wristwatch band.

"I really like the artistic aspect," he said. "You get to exercise the choice of color, texture and form, and I just like glass as a medium."

Humphrey credits the turnaround to the center´s staff and to local foundations such as The Heinz Endowments, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation and the Benedum Foundation.

The next step, he said, is deciding whether the center is strong enough to stand alone or whether it should partner or merge with another group.

"Everything we do from here on out will be from a position of strength," Humphrey said, "not weakness."

Humphrey said he donates his consulting money to Filmmakers and the Center for the Arts and spends only a few hours a week at the Glass Center.

"He´s very plugged in," said Heather McElwee, assistant director of the center. "Even when he´s not here, he´s working for the Glass Center."

Source: Pittsburgh Glass CenterAuthor: shangyi

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