From flowers to hardware, small business pitches in

In St. Louis recently, when 16 local artists needed funding to distribute a brochure about their special edition of fine prints, the Seven-Up Company stepped in and mailed the brochures to 20,000 curators, collectors, and galleries nationwide.

In Altamonte Springs, Fla., when it became obvious the Florida Symphony Orchestra of Orlando required more help, the construction firm of R.L. Peatross & Hueber Inc. designed, built, and sold a house - and gave all the profits to the orchestra.

And in New York, when U.S. Terpschore, a small ballet company, decided to use video equipment for rehearsal purposes, the Sony Corporation donated money for its purchase.

These examples represent the other, less publicized but no less important side of the commitment American business has made to the arts. In addition to the often huge sums given to large arts organizations by such corporate giants as Exxon or Mobil, smaller amounts - often running to only a few hundred dollars - are given by these and smaller companies to regional arts agencies, local performing groups, or individual artists for special projects, concerts, or exhibitions. In addition, companies of all sizes are donating time, space, goods , and services to those in the arts genuinely in need of them.

Targeted Communication Corporation of Falls Church, Va., for instance, decided in 1983 to aid the debt-ridden New Playwrights' Theatre in Washington, D.C., by helping it establish a better management system, design and operate a program of donor renewal and subscription sales, and set up a computer and record-keeping system.

The result: The Theatre's net income last year went up 20 percent, its subscription renewals increased 25 percent, and its debt from previous years was reduced 50 percent.

On a less dramatic level, Singletary's Flowers and Gifts of Thomasville, Ga., donates stage props and decorations to the Thomasville Music and Drama Troupe; Frank's Shoes of Chatham, N.J., recently contributed $500 worth of handmade boots for the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival's production of ''War of the Roses''; and the Greater New York Savings Bank in Manhattan regularly sets aside window and interior wall space for displays by local artists.

Insignificant and of merely short-term effectiveness? Perhaps, but only if seen as a series of isolated instances and not as evidence of a new and increasingly widespread realization that supporting the arts is not only good for the community, but for business itself. This awareness is now almost as prevalent in small, out-of-the-way communities as in large, urban centers, with the result that the corporate giants which almost monopolized the subsidization of art a few years ago must now share the credit - particularly on the local level - with smaller companies, neighborhood shopping centers, and banks, and possibly even with the corner hardware store.

The urge to become champions of the arts has affected other areas of the business community as well. Middle-level corporations in medium to large cities, local branches of major corporations, and important regional newspapers have all joined in to lend support either directly or through special foundations. They have commissioned art and musical works; underwritten visual arts exhibits, opera concerts, and poetry-reading tours; subsidized community playhouses and renovated museums; and helped fund public broadcasting stations, art magazines, and public lectures by leaders in the arts.

Their assistance has at times been crucial. Threatened with bankruptcy, the Hartford Ballet Company of Hartford, Conn., was rescued by Hartford Insurance Group executives who raised the required funds from 14 area corporations - and then helped the company implement better management procedures.

Help has also been low-keyed and social-minded. Dayton Hudson Corporation of Minneapolis provided money to establish a centralized box office in downtown Minneapolis to sell tickets for performances of 31 small professional arts organizations. And CIGNA Corporation of Philadelphia originated a program with Philadelphia's Theatre Without Bars - a company of ex-convicts who perform original skits and poetry readings for secondary schools - to utilize theatrical techniques in helping youngsters resist peer pressure to use drugs or become involved in crime.

The number of ways business can help is almost endless. For those who have the desire but don't know where to begin, the Business Committee for the Arts (BCA), a national, nonprofit organization committed to a deeper involvement between the arts and business, has published a helpful booklet, ''100 Ways Business Supports the Arts,'' which lists suggestions within four categories: People, Services and Products, Tie-ins, and Dollars. It costs $1.50 and can be ordered from the BCA's offices at 1775 Broadway, Suite 510, New York, N.Y. 10019 .

Among the more intriguing and challenging suggestions:

* Keep a museum open free to the public one night a week by underwriting operating costs.

* Arrange a payroll deduction plan for employees wishing to make contributions to the arts.

* Develop and use a corporate art collection as the basis for an educational program for public school children.

* Invite a local arts organization to give a performance for employees on company premises.

* Sponsor an outdoor mobile performing arts unit that travels to communities where the company operates.

* Donate a company building for conversion into a community performing or fine arts center.

It is obvious that the type and cost of assistance varies sufficiently to make it easy for both small businesses and huge corporations to find something appropriate to their interests and budgets. The rewards vary considerably, from increased community goodwill toward the sponsoring company to an enhanced corporate image on the national level. There also are honors and awards given by the BCA and Forbes magazine to those businesses whose contributions are particularly noteworthy. In 1984, 38 businesses from 14 states were so honored; that brings the total number of winners to 184 from 38 states since the Business in the Arts Awards were first given in 1967.

Awards, however, are only the frosting on the cake. Without a genuine interest in the arts, or at least a belief in their value to the community, a company's commitment to their survival and growth could easily be short-lived. Such interests obviously motivate the executives of most companies that actively participate in arts-related activities. They were clearly articulated by Winton M. Blount, chairman of the board of Blount Inc., Montgomery, Ala., in his address delivered at the 1984 BCA Awards dinner in Atlanta: ''What better way to improve the quality of life than supporting the arts and artists where you do business. There are so many innovative ways to be involved.... Part of your responsibility as business leaders is to take these examples and add your ingenuity and creativity to further expand the horizons of support.... Take a chance, see what works or what new artist may have a great contribution to make if there is just a little encouragement available.''

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