According to Charity Navigator, a charity assessment group that evaluates hundreds of thousands of charitable organizations throughout the United States, the Mammoth Lakes Foundation (MLF) has a current overall score of 72 out of 100 in “Finance and Accountability”- a failing score, according to the watchdog group.
The site assesses the nonprofit’s financial health: stability, efficiency and sustainability, and its commitment to governance practices and policies. The score given evaluates data from 2020, the latest year published by the IRS.
According to the site, the Foundation’s expenses for 2020 have been broken up as follows: 57.8% in Administrative expenses ($362,184), 41.4% in Programming expenses ($259,105), and 0.8% in fundraising ($5,134).
These numbers differ from 2018, which had a notably higher percentage of the Foundation’s money spent on Programming expenses – for which 71.3% ($938,076) of its budget was devoted, leaving 1.2% for fundraising ($15,394) and just 27.5% to Administrative expenses ($361,560), according to the site.
The Sheet asked the Foundation about its Charity Navigator score.
“We are working to update [the site] now that we have filed our Form 990 for the fiscal year ending June 2021. You’ll note that the information on their site is from the 2020 Form 990 and not current,” said Executive Director Betsy Truax regarding the failing score on Charity Navigator.
Although quick to point out that the numbers were not up to date, Truax didn’t go into great detail about how expenditure has changed since 2020 – aside from providing the Foundation’s Statement of Financial Position which was just recently assessed from an outside accounting firm it hired.
The statement was vague, listing the change in total assets for the organization from 2020 to 2021, as well as its total liabilities.
It did not outline annual operating revenue and expenses.
The Sheet asked Truax if she could go into greater detail with how much spending has gone towards specific programming, administration, and scholarship expenses. She responded that she was deep in year-end fundraising, and would have to share those numbers later.
The Sheet traveled to the MLF office in person to ask for this detailed annual expenditure breakdown. The door was locked, but a person who described herself as the foundation’s accountant heard us outside and answered tyhe door. She stated that the Foundation provided “adequate information” regarding its spending, and that “they [Mammoth Lakes Foundation] are doing better than the other non-profits in town”.
The news of MLF’s poor financial score follows the Foundation’s Board’s decision in 2020 to downsize its permanent staff from 4 members to 2, “in order to preserve cash and refocus the organization on its core mission,” according to a press release issued by Board President Gary McCoy last year.
During the downsize, Development Director Betsy Truax assumed the role of Executive Director and former Executive Director Rich Boccia retired.
At this time, the Foundation also decided to lay off Shira Dubrovner, who had successfully managed the Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theater with the umbrella support of the Foundation for the past 11 years.
The jettison of both Boccia and Dubrovner occurred while a work-place harassment claim made by Dubrovner against Boccia was unresolved.
It remains unresolved.
A press release at the time stated that, “Covid-19 has impacted arts programming across the globe and will prevent performances in the Edison Theater for the foreseeable future. Consequently, MLF intends to support, rather than produce, live theater and other events going forward. MLF will no longer own or operate Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre …”
The reason MLF gave for shutting down its theater’s use: It could no longer afford the programming required to keep its own productions going in the wake of Covid.
Instead, the Foundation said it needed to restructure its finances to ensure that its limited resources would still be able to carry out its core mission of providing higher education and cultural enrichment to the Eastern Sierra.
But despite its promise to no longer produce shows itself in its theater but “still support live theater and other events,” MLF hasn’t spent a dime on “cultural enrichment” since. It did not support Mammoth’s recent productions of “Shakespeare in The Woods” this past summer; both productions were hosted outside, featured local casts of all ages, and were the first major theater productions in Mammoth since the pandemic hit.
While the MLF maintains the “arts” is not nor ever was a part of its core mission, it announced last month that it still plans to build a new, multi-million dollar Mammoth Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) to replace the Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theater previously utilized by Dubrovner. For now, it says the project is on “pause.”
Once completed, the new theater will be turned over to the Town of Mammoth Lakes to operate.
But what happens in the interim? Will the old theater stand idle? When consultants unveiled the new theater project last month, they said the old theater could remain open during the vast majority of construction.
When asked if the existing theater will be available for public rental in the near future, Truax responded that last Wednesday the compressor for the building’s sprinkler system failed, and that until it is repaired there cannot be any public use of any part of the building for any purpose.
But according to Truax, even after the repair is made, the space will still be unsafe to use in any capacity.
“It is currently closed to all use. Ventilation and air exchange have always been a problem in the space because it was not designed as a performance venue, and Covid has greatly increased the risk inherent in using it as such … Even if those issues were to be resolved, the Foundation has only two full-time staff members now, including me, so we don’t have the capacity to supervise and manage rentals,” said Truax.
Originally a museum, the space was converted into a theater at the end of 2010; about a year later, an air conditioning system was installed. During its 11 years being used as a performance venue, there was never any major issue with ventilation reported.
The most recent use of the Edison Theater was in 2021 when the MLF partnered with Mono County and the Town of Mammoth Lakes to provide the space as a local, free Covid-19 testing location.
So, if it was truly an unventilated, unsafe place for public gatherings during Covid, why would a vaccination test site be set up inside?
And even if MLF can’t work with Dubrovner, what about Sierra Classic Theater? They have been shut out from planning and design meetings, and told that they will not be able to rent out the space. Recently, MLF has stopped answering their emails.
This, despite MLF Board President Gary McCoy’s promise to “support live theater and other events going forward” in the name of cultural enrichment.
On a brighter note: On Thursday, December 2, three of the MLF’s Dave’s Scholars will graduate from the Licensed Vocational Nursing Program at Cerro Coso Community College alongside their classmates. This was made possible partly through scholarships raised by the Foundation- although it is still unknown how much or what proportion of their expenditure this entailed.
The Mammoth Lakes Foundation Mission Statement on their website reads: “The Mammoth Lakes Foundation and our supporters believe that availability of higher education and cultural enrichment in the Eastern Sierra enhances the quality of life enjoyed by residents, second homeowners, and visitors by balancing the recreational attractions in the community with cultural and educational opportunities. Higher education and the arts promote leadership, stimulate growth, and build a stronger year-round economy and community.”
Trying to keep the performing arts community alive, Dubrovner’s Eastern Sierra Arts Alliance is looking for a temporary, pop-up space in Mammoth Lakes to perform in this winter.