(Updated at 6:30 p.m. on 08/25/23) Arlington Independent Media is seeking sponsors for a free community event it will host early next month.
Arlington’s public access TV channel, its community radio station and a media training provider is throwing its first-ever “MusicFest.” The event, on Sept. 7, from 5:30-10 p.m. at its Clarendon studios at 2701 Wilson Blvd, will have live music, food and drinks and vendors.
Ahead of the event, the organization is seeking individual donations as well as sponsors, who can get perks such as logo placement, free beer and wine and radio announcements on WERA 96.7 FM for contributing $1,000 to $5,000.
The event comes as the Arlington County Board is encouraging the organization to vary its funding sources. The fundraiser coincides with AIM’s 40th anniversary and will “honor our legacy as Arlington’s premier community media center and to celebrate AIM’s exciting future at the forefront of media arts,” per a letter to supporters.
“Arlington Independent Media has witnessed tremendous growth in 2023,” it continued. “We have been continuing the build-out of our new podcast/broadcasting multimedia studios at our South Arlington location, pioneering our new youth-centered journalism initiative, upgrading our cabling system and reimagining our training and membership programs.”
The new studio, located in Green Valley, is set to have a ribbon-cutting on Oct. 20, AIM CEO Whytni Kernodle says. As for the Youth Journalism Initiative (YJI) vaunted in the letter to prospective sponsors, she says 10 students have come through the program. Another 20 participated in a Youth Journalism Club that AIM hosted with Arlington Public Library and 35 attended a camp intended to prepare them for YJI.
Kernodle, who has made a commitment to racial justice part of her mission as AIM’s leader, says the organization is changing its selection process for training programs to uplift marginalized voices. It is also looking to make membership free so people do not feel excluded based on cost.
Next month’s fundraiser could offset the financial impact of striking membership fees and bigger financial headwinds AIM faces. For instance, a once-reliable funding source — a cable franchise agreement, which provides funding based on local cable TV subscription numbers — become increasingly unpredictable.
After years of trying to lessen AIM’s reliance on tax dollars for operating expenses, the County Board approved a 33% increase its support to the organization in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, giving it $506,579.
Still, the County Board wants AIM to demonstrate it can fundraise and clean up its budget.
The organization’s federal Form 990s are behind schedule and a profit-and-loss document ARLnow reviewed from 2018-2021 shows the organization had lost more than $345,500 between 2018-2020. A copy of AIM’s 2022-23 fiscal year budget, which ARLnow also reviewed, appears to show AIM is working on meeting the Board’s directive.
In all, AIM took in $1.3 million this immediate past fiscal year, which ended in June, up from $564,587 last year. This includes a 30% increase in unrestricted grant funds, a $35,000 increase in revenue from underwriting sponsors, and new revenue from camps and studio fees.
Still, more than half of the $750,000 increase comes from an infusion of “restricted grants” equivalent to the Public, Educational and Government (PEG) funding it logged: $433,054. The sudden infusion, earmarked for capital expenses, came after three fiscal years in which no PEG funds were allocated, per the profit-and-loss statement.
While AIM ended the 2022 fiscal year in the red, losing $86,211, it finished 2023 with a balanced budget. With the uptick in revenue came increased expenses, including an increase in salaries that began in 2022. AIM ended the 2023 fiscal year spending $505,000 on salaries — separate from benefits and payroll taxes.
Last year, that was five full-time and two-part time staff members, Kernodle says. This year, AIM has four full-time and one part-time staff member.
Previously, salaries had been falling since 2018-19, when AIM paid employees nearly $430,000, according to the profit-and-loss statement.
“The most important step I took was finding the right people to create the right team,” Kernodle says. “What was clear in 2021 and is still clear now is that individuals, particularly those 50 and younger, are not willing to work for less than what they deem their value.”
Not everyone takes that view.
ARLnow reviewed emails and spoke with sources familiar with the organization who suggested that the organization’s financial situation, the increase in compensation and conflicts between leadership and members of AIM’s board all contributed to turnover among producers and the board of directors.
Kernodle confirmed the board member and producer turnover, saying three new board members will be appointed this fall. She attributed the turnover, however, to people being uncomfortable with the steps she has taken to right-size AIM.
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Standup Comedy Starring Casey James Salengo (Comedy Central, Jimmy Kimmel Live)
Friday, December 29
Headliner: Casey James Salengo
Casey James Salengo is a NYC-based comedian who’s been featured on Comedy Central Presents, Jimmy Kimmel Live, This Week at the Cellar,
Menorah Lighting – Met Park at Amazon HQ2
Menorah Lighting and Community Celebration
Experience the festival of lights!!
*Lighting of a giant 9-foot Menorah