Will you be a gold, silver or platinum sponsor? That’s the question development director Deb Cottin asks her loyal donors when she begins to organize the biennial exhibition of Quilt National in St. Louis. Safe Connections has a 25-year history of bringing art to the community to support its efforts to reduce the impact and incidence of relationship violence and sexual assault through education, crisis intervention, counseling and support services.
“Our St. Louis presentation of Quilt National has proven that you don’t have to be an arts organization to successfully use an arts event as a highly effective fundraising tool.”
A long history of Quilt National presentations
Safe Connections in St. Louis has hosted almost the entire Quilt National collection since 1987. The folks at Safe Connections begin planning their biennial fundraiser event almost two years in advance, negotiating venues, collecting sponsorships and coordinating with the Dairy Barn Cultural Arts Center in Athens, Ohio, where the show originates. “We love presenting this exhibition,” says Cottin, Director of Development at Safe Connections.
“We are proud to be a model for raising funds creatively and successfully. St. Louis is a world-class city and Safe Connections is proud to bring the world-class art of Quilt National where it can be appreciated. People drive in from throughout the Midwest to visit St. Louis and see Quilt National.”
In 1987, Safe Connections board member Lynn Friedman Hamilton, a fiber artist herself, proposed that the Quilt National show could become a fundraiser for Safe Connections. She thought it was a good mission fit because quilting is traditionally a women’s art form, and the Safe Connections organization sprang from the women’s movement and focused on serving women. Quilt National today reflects how Safe Connections has changed over the years. The organization has expanded to serve women and men, young and old, the larger circle of those hurt by domestic and sexual violence. Similarly, the art quilting scene has evolved and pieces are now created not just by older women, but also men and younger artists. “The tie between the evolving community of quilt artists and the changing profile of domestic and sexual violence victims work for us as a great way to introduce visitors to Safe Connections. Our free services and the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence in St. Louis are often unrecognized by people outside of the women’s movement and victim services communities. This exhibition helps us spread awareness among a broader audience as we raise crucial funds.”
Individual sponsors support the fundraising effort
Almost all of the funds raised at the Safe Connections presentation of Quilt National are supplied by individuals who act as sponsors for the show. Sponsorship levels range from $250 to $1,000. Sponsors receive varying levels of benefits including their names displayed on banners throughout the five-week show, a hardbound catalog of the quilts, and private tours of the exhibit. Cottin says that most of the sponsorships are from individuals who have a long history of supporting this show. “Quilt National is relatively special in that the sponsorships are given almost entirely by individuals, as opposed to corporations. The individual sponsors of Quilt National are the soul of this event. They know how one-of-a-kind this event is, they love the art and they have committed themselves to addressing domestic and sexual violence in this powerful way.” The show has consistently raised anywhere from $40,000 in its earlier years to as much as $120,000 during one show that coincided with the opening of a new regional gallery space.
When it comes to fundraiser events, the St. Louis community has all the golf tournaments, trivia nights, 5-Ks or sit-down chicken dinners they could want. Internationally recognized fiber art exhibitions…not so much. “Quilt National is our gift and the gift of our sponsors to the St. Louis community. We are proud of our 25-year legacy here and we plan to keep making it happen for the good of our cause and the good of the region.”
This year’s show at the St. Louis University Museum of Art is the first at this location. Admission is free. Cottin says that partnering with the university has been tremendously helpful. The show debuted on September 20 and will continue until October 27.
Contact Kathleen Dawson at the Dairy Barn if you would like to host the show in your community as a fundraiser. She can provide valuable insight on the process.