LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This recession has many in the arts world feeling as though their bubble has burst. It seems every week there's more bad news about opera companies folding or theaters scaling back their seasons, but there is a group dedicated to helping small arts organizations across the country work better as businesses. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports that for them, business is booming.
NEDA ULABY: Adam Huttler came to New York like a lot of people, to start his own theater company and put on plays.
Mr. ADAM HUTTLER (Founder, Fractured Atlas): Well, that lasted for about one show.
ULABY: Huttler discovered the last thing the New York theater scene needed was another director. It did need people capable of dealing with less glamorous issues like book keeping and getting events insured. So Huttler transformed his little company into a non-profit called Fractured Atlas. Now it supports 7,500 arts organizations and individual artists nationwide.
Mr. HUTTLER: So we do everything from low-cost health insurance to professional development, to technical assistance, liability insurance, you name it.
ULABY: One of Fractured Atlas's members is Washington, D.C.'s Catalyst Theater Company. Right now it's producing a little performed play by Bertolt Brecht that suddenly seems very relevant. It's about the grim realities of a country and recession. The director commissioned original music for Brecht's lyrics.
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Unidentified Woman: (Singing) A foolish man comes by, asks me while gazing at the sky, will his brother ever pay his debt? I replied, I wouldn't care to bet.
ULABY: Fractured Atlas helped the company's part-time actors and staff get unemployment insurance says artistic director Scott Fortier, and liability insurance as well.
Mr. SCOTT FORTIER (Artistic Director, Catalyst Theater Company): There was one show where one of our actors was injured and, you know, recovered.
ULABY: Little companies like Catalyst in some ways have it easier during hard economic times. Low overhead and a largely volunteer staff means there's less to lose. Still, declining donations affects nearly everyone in the arts world. Scott Fortier says he plans to take advantage of Fractured Atlas's free online classes in fundraising and accounting.
Mr. FORTIER: Once you start actually acting like a business, well, I think that your donors are happy, your board is definitely happy. It gives us a grown-up feel.
ULABY: Most Fractured Atlas members are individual artists, ranging from dancers to water colorists. Basic memberships are free and include access to low-cost health insurance. For $75 a year, artists get more services. For example, Fractured Atlas can help documentary filmmakers get a kind of insurance that protects them if they get sued by their subjects. That's critical for distribution deals.
Mr. CHRISTIAN OH (D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival): They definitely nurture and help you get to the next level.
ULABY: Christian Oh helps run the D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival. It brings over 80 independent movies to Washington, D.C. every year. Oh says Fractured Atlas helped his organization expand to the extent, he says, that he may not renew his membership. The film festival has learned how to take care of itself.
Mr. OH: It's almost like a parent and a child. We've been a child of theirs for a while, and we realize that we're growing up and we need to move on.
ULABY: Fractured Atlas's executive director says that means he's done his job. Adam Huttler says the recession has not hurt his organization's membership. In fact, he says, since October, it's gained about 300 new members a month. Artists will keep making art, he says. They might as well have insurance while they do it.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
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WERTHEIMER: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
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And I'm Steve Inskeep.
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