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Warhol grant hoists Eyedrum fortunes 

Budget will be doubled

After nearly eight years of scrounging for quarters between the proverbial sofa cushions, the Eyedrum arts co-op has won the nonprofit equivalent of a lottery.

Last week, the perennially cash-strapped group on the edge of downtown Atlanta was told it will receive an Andy Warhol Foundation grant that will effectively double its visual arts and organizational budget for the next two years.

Although the grant, among several awarded semi-annually by the New York-based foundation, totals a relatively modest $30,000, the money is a major financial windfall for an all-volunteer outfit that has no paid staff and a negligible advertising budget. "It's huge for us because we've been struggling for so long," says Hormuz Minina, Eyedrum's board chairman, who says the new funds will be used to pay stipends to exhibiting artists and guest curators, and possibly cover printing and mailing costs for catalogs, postcards and flyers used to promote the gallery's visual arts programs. Eyedrum hosts more than 250 exhibitions, screenings and musical and live performances annually.

Not counting the rent on the former warehouse it occupies on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Eyedrum has an annual budget of about $15,000, says Minina, but is not eligible for many local arts grants because it has no paid staff.

The Warhol Foundation -- created by famed Pop Art pioneer Andy Warhol to support cutting-edge, experimental art and artists -- was willing to overlook that potential liability. "It's unusual for us to support an organization that's entirely volunteer-run," says Yona Backer, senior program officer for the foundation. "But we're always looking to support artists who haven't had a lot of exposure and Eyedrum fills that niche in the Southeast."

Apart from the money, the grant brings with it a certain amount of prestige. Cathy Byrd, curator of Georgia State University's contemporary art gallery, says winning a Warhol Foundation grant last year for a show on censorship boosted the gallery's profile. "Having the endorsement of the Warhol Foundation has given us national and even international recognition," she says. "It made a huge difference in our ability to interest major artists."

Louise Shaw, former director of the Contemporary Arts Center, which has claimed two Warhol grants in recent years, says the foundation has a reputation for rewarding alternative spaces willing to take artistic risks. "For Eyedrum to get a national grant is an indication of the critical role they play in Atlanta's art ecology," she says.

Although the grant will help stabilize the scrappy group for the next two years, Minina is concerned about Eyedrum's ability to remain in its home because of the rising property values along the nearby Memorial Drive corridor. The group's current lease runs out late next year, having moved there in 2001 from its original location on Trinity Avenue.

"I'd love to stay at this location and I feel we've brought a certain amount of traffic to the area," Minina says. "Eyedrum is thriving, except financially."

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