Smile Politely

A (baker’s) dozen arts donations

It’s inevitable this time of year: our calendars are crammed with winter obligations. Not only are there holiday parties and shopping to do, but all the arts students hold their final-project recitals, exhibitions, and performances of various types. Community theatres and galleries are getting in one last show before the city empties out, and it can be quite a relief to have something to do with visiting family members, or a nice way to spend time with friends we won’t see until after the turn of the year.

It can be harrowing to try to fit everything into these first 2-3 weeks of December, but like any good TV special designed to bring the feels, I’d encourage you to take a moment, take a breath, and reflect on the riches around us. C-U is a singular community in central Illinois to offer so many cultural opportunities, not just now, but year-round; we have world-class venues attracting high-profile performers, as well as passionate and dedicated local arts communities in every medium. It’s enough to make you break out into a chorus of “fah-who for-aze”.

Regardless of the particular winter festival you may (or may not) celebrate, the grinch’s lesson is that generosity makes your heart grow three sizes, right? Not to mention that most donations to non-profit organizations are tax-deductible with just a little information and responsible accounting. W2s are coming soon, and donations should be made before the end of the calendar year, so there’s no time like the present to make a present to any of our numerous arts organizations. 

While gifts made to any local artistic non-profit will benefit us all, some of the bigger guys have employees or departments dedicated to seeking patronage. For that reason, it’s my intent to highlight a few of the more independent organizations which are primarily supported by donations, and to point out a few worthy projects which are seeking ongoing support. Many organizations offer discounts and benefits in appreciation of your donation, so be sure to click through the links for the most complete information. If you prefer the paper trail left by a check, mailing information is usually found at the links provided, as well.

Community Center for the Arts (C4A)

C4A offers lessons and camps that result in concerts for the community. Your donation would be in the form of a “membership” in any of various levels that carry benefits such as: a t-shirt, members-only events, advanced registration, discounts on concert tickets and free lessons.

The Conservatory of Central Illinois

The Conservatory focuses on education and outreach, helping students afford music education and providing free concerts in public venues, retirement centers and schools. They are also a fully certified member of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts. While they do not have an online method for donation, you can call 217-356-9812 to speak with someone about contributing.

The Unreliable Bestiary

It’s difficult to describe the impact Deke Weaver’s ongoing project has had on the individuals who attend, but it is a unique and profound experience. While there’s no easy way to just hand him money to keep going, his online store promises that 25% of the retail cost of anything purchased will be used to further the work. So maybe get some Christmas shopping done AND support local arts. (Because merchandise is involved, however, this is a purchase, and as such is not tax-deductible.)

The Station Theatre

Thanks to contributions from patrons, the Station was able to finalize the purchase of new and more comfortable chairs, but they do not want to stop there! According to their ongoing gofundme campaign, the board is hoping to find a viable rehearsal space and more storage space, update the theatre’s tech, and put up a sign alongside the Boneyard River Walk.

Urbana Public Arts

Although it’s a department of the City of Urbana, Public Arts makes use of grant money and donations from patrons of the arts. And, well, yanno, Urbana’s run into a few budgetary hiccups recently. Aside from putting up sculptures, UPA supports initiatives like the juried Arts Expo as well as individual artists such as Ace Award-winner Deke Weaver. Your contribution could facilitate any number of artistic opportunities.

Open Scene, Independent Media Center

This federal grant to improve our community art space has one requirement: that the community raise $5,000 to prove our commitment to the effort. So commit! Help open up this space with actual staff and programs to bring new life to Urbana’s downtown.


This arts organization is responsible for the yearly Boneyard Festival, holding quarterly art shows, and providing recognition through the ACE awards. They support the arts throughout the entire county, coordinating information about events, putting fine art inside busses and on unused billboards, and most recently putting a share-space in downtown Champaign. And they made a video to say thanks:

The Art Theatre Co-Op

As America’s first cooperatively-owned theatre, this landmark building continues to be a cultural hub downtown. With panel discussions, small-release films, and cult classics, The Art reminds us what cinema can be. There are three great ways to help out financially – direct donation, membership, or ownership – all of which will help keep this community resource on its feet.

The Virginia Theatre

Another landmark building, the Virginia hosts the largest off-campus auditorium and hosts community theatre events, the Pens to Lens gala, and of course, Ebertfest. Owned and operated by the Champaign Park District, if you’d like to give a gift to benefit this venue specifically, use the “Gift Designation” drop-down menu to choose The Virginia Theatre on the form at the Foundation website.

Pens to Lens

Speaking of Pens to Lens, the project has secured their 501(c)(3) status, and you can now donate directly to them in order to help young screenwriters see their scripts made into real films. I’m overwhelmed every time I attend the gala, and it’s clear that the experience makes quite an impact on the students, as well.


Institute for Creativity (I4C)

Downtown’s most unique venue with the most intriguing programs is also an educational resource, holding lessons and seminars, marketing assistance and networking opportunities. They are dedicated to encouraging the development of creativity, no matter what form it takes. While there’s no direct online donation method, the center director, Bill Longfellow, will take inquiries at his email address.

C-U Ballet

The community ballet school is responsible for two holiday traditions in town: The Nutcracker at Christmas, and the spring performance of a famous ballet near Mother’s Day. These productions always feature beautiful costumes and backgrounds, and provide a beautiful way for families to experience a cultural event. The Nutcracker is in the middle of a revitalization, so your contribution will help the tradition continue and stay fresh for future generations.


The C-U Design Organization has been making good on its mission to be a more visible part of the arts in town. They just wrapped up their annual “CUDO Pro Show”, exhibiting professional design as works of art at 217 Gallery, and they’re gearing up for another year packed full of PechaKucha and more. If you’d like to donate, you can make a direct contribution or become a member.

In addition to these smaller organizations, there are plenty of institutions being affected by the economy and political changes. If your interests lie in making some great organizations even better, you can always contact either Krannert (Center for the Performing Arts or Art Museum), either library (CPL or UFL), or specify your gift being used artistically when you donate to the Parkland Foundation (Giertz Gallery or Parkland Theatre). However you choose to lessen your tax burden, or spread the spirit of giving, supporting the arts enriches our community in a way you can see and experience. 

– end –

More Articles