SALMON — If there are concerts here by accomplished musicians, if there are Shakespearean plays by talented actors and if there are public art projects that involve area youth, you can be fairly certain the entity behind the endeavors is the Salmon Arts Council.
At a time when the nonprofit organization is poised to launch its 2019-20 season, it is appealing to the community for financial support in an effort to keep its doors open.
The stark but not unexpected truth about such groups is that they often operate on a shoestring — and even in the red for certain periods of time. Yet a combination of factors has in recent months strained the local Arts Council to a near breaking point. Leaders and patrons say the group is at a crossroads that threatens it with closure if further contributions are not forthcoming.
Executive Director Susan Payne said donations toward underwriting planned performances fell mostly short of the mark during a gala earlier this month aimed at securing such sponsorships. Membership fees (at $25 each) too have lagged, as have patron-level donations ($100) and other categories of giving.
“People sometimes think that someone else is taking care of that; what they may not realize is, that someone else needs to be them,” Payne said.
The Art Council’s mission statement says it “exists to foster the growth, awareness and education of the arts and humanities in Lemhi County.” The group can rightfully boast of accomplishments that have improved the quality of life in Salmon in projects that have placed art in public spaces, including downtown murals, and provided instruction to local students by visiting musicians, artists and performers.
The loss of those opportunities and the goodwill behind them would be tragic for the Salmon area community, said Mary Cerise, former head of the local Arts Council and commissioner with the Idaho Commission on the Arts.
“Through the arts, you have the chance to open up minds and explore other cultures,” she said. “The goal is to make arts accessible so they don’t become an elitist form of entertainment but instead foster and augment community diversity, personal growth, personal expression and economic benefits.”
The challenges facing rural areas such as Lemhi County are legion, from the lack of stable and profitable industries to the dearth of high-paying jobs.
“The Salmon Arts Council continually has to beat the odds against that,” Cerise said.
Public funds to nonprofit arts entities, funneled by federal and state governments, rise or fall according to mostly political posturing, underscoring the need for the area Arts Council to feel the love from locals.
Michael Faison, executive director of the Idaho Commission on the Arts, said it is a perennial struggle in Idaho and across the nation for rural communities to support and fund the arts.
“Local organizations often have just one full-time or part-time staffer and they rely heavily on volunteers within the community, making it difficult for those organizations to not just survive but also thrive,” he said.
Payne said she and board members have been heartened lately by the response to the group’s call for aid, spelled out in a recent letter published in the local newspaper.
An anonymous donor sent a check for $1,000 and other area residents have stepped forward to renew their memberships or purchase them for the first time, she said.
“We are thankful for any form of support. We want to be here for people now and into the future and we can only do that with the community’s help,” said Payne.
Anyone interested in donating to the organization can do so online at salmonartscouncil.org or by mailing checks to 200 Main St., Salmon, ID 83467. Those with questions or wishing to provide other forms of support are encouraged to contact Payne at 208-756-2987 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.