The business of community

Uncle Dad’s Art Collective enters nonprofit realm

Uncle Dad’s Art Collective Managing Director Josh Hegg.

Uncle Dad’s Art Collective Managing Director Josh Hegg.

Photo by Ken Pordes

Hegg’s pro tip:
Before you go down this road into the nonprofit arts world, ask yourself what your role is. You really need to enjoy watching other people succeed, [because] there’s not much money in it.

For all of its notoriety as a vibrant arts community, Chico’s reputation as a place to make a living in the field is not so remarkable. Even popular artists and organizations—such as the Uncle Dad’s Art Collective—with respectable followings and consistently high-quality output are usually sustained more by artist passion than dependable cash flow.

“[I was] still writing checks from my personal checkbook,” noted Josh Hegg—one of the Uncle Dad’s founders and its current managing director—when looking back at even the most recent productions.

The high-profile shows that the collective of musicians, producers, dancers, actors and artists has put on have brought in crowds, but their scope—with dozens of performers and support staff staging multidiscipline events at Laxson Auditorium (such as the re-creation of Queen’s A Night at the Opera) or the full orchestras of the Small Town, Big Sound concerts at the Sierra Nevada Big Room—meant margins were thin and spreading the proceeds was challenging. If Uncle Dad’s was going to move past its operating model of living project-to-project, it needed to become a nonprofit.

The group took the first step toward long-term sustainability when it received official notice of its tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service in April.

A tax-exempt designation means that a business isn’t required to pay federal income taxes, and that contributions to the group are tax-deductible for donors. It also means that Uncle Dad’s can apply for funding available to nonprofits. “I’m teaching myself how to write grants and how to research,” Hegg said.

Uncle Dad’s received a lot of help with the process from local attorney Todd Amdor, who—after finding out the group wasn’t a nonprofit upon trying to make a donation—handled the submission of paperwork pro bono. It took about a year to get everything done—to write bylaws, assemble a board, and bring the grand scope of the Uncle Dad’s goals into focus. Those goals include continuing with its mission “to realize the artistic ideas of our members and collaborators in a way that makes significant positive impacts—artistically and fiscally—for the individual, the collective, and the community.”

While being a nonprofit will benefit Uncle Dad’s future projects, Hegg says his personal goal is to lay the foundation for supporting the wider Chico-area arts community. “In my perfect world, Uncle Dad’s can help organize and fund creative ideas that people have in town,” he said.

After he puts in the time learning about funding sources, and how to interact with the board as well as the community, Hegg hopes to be able to hand a guidebook of sorts to whoever needs it, so others don’t have to start from square one every time. “That way, it never burns out, ideally,” Hegg said.