Grinding Gears for the Arts
When you think about the performing arts, the first image that comes to mind probably isn’t thousands of cyclists. But in Milwaukee, bike riding and the performing arts have been connected since 1981 when the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) started the UPAF Ride for the Arts, sponsored by Miller Lite. Back then it was known as “Arts Pedalers,” then it grew immensely as “Uecker’s Ride for the Arts” and “Miller Lite for the Ride for the Arts.” The current name, which our title sponsor graciously agreed to in 2010, ensures the focus of the event is on its reason for being–to support the performing arts in Southeastern Wisconsin.
Founded in 1967, UPAF is an umbrella fundraising United Arts Fund with a threefold mission: 1) to raise much-needed funds to ensure entertainment excellence, 2) steward the dollars our donors so generously give, 3) promote the performing arts as a regional asset. As the single largest funder to 15 of the largest performing arts organizations in our region, including the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Ballet, and Milwaukee Repertory Theater, UPAF is essential to sustaining the valuable asset that we have in the performing arts.
UPAF receives no government funding–all donations come from generous individuals, corporations and foundations. Bucking the trend, since 2012 the UPAF Campaign has increased an impressive 15.3% in two years with $11,728,476 raised in the 2014 Campaign.
The Ride for the Arts, which usually takes place the first Sunday in June each year and is viewed by many as the kickoff to the summer riding season, is an important fundraising component of UPAF’s annual campaign. More than 280,000 people have participated in the Ride for the Arts, and $8.5 million has been raised by the event since its inception. This year’s Ride included more than 6,000 riders, 700 volunteers and numerous sponsors, and it generated more than $550,000 for the campaign.
The Ride features six routes ranging from 5 miles to 66 miles, so riders of all ability levels can participate. One of the special features of the Ride is the Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks in Milwaukee. Riders have been able to traverse the bridge since the 2011 Ride–the only time a cyclist can cross the bridge. And following their Ride, participants and guests enjoy the Finish Line Party, with free food, beer samples compliments of MillerCoors, entertainment, and activities for the whole family.
One of the main drivers each year for the UPAF Campaign is Workplace Giving (WPG). These campaigns take place at organizations across Southeastern Wisconsin, such as Northwestern Mutual, Johnson Controls and We Energies. Approximately one-third of donations to UPAF come in through Workplace Giving Campaigns, which offer companies the opportunity to engage employees, enhance their corporate citizenship image, and showcase emerging leaders. And WPG Campaigns provide employees the opportunity to show their support for this important community asset–the performing arts–right at their place of employment. UPAF provides resources, including online materials and a Loaned Executive to assist WPG Ambassadors at the company, to make the campaign as easy as possible to run.
Many companies with Workplace Giving Campaigns also have teams for the Ride for the Arts as a way to further boost employee morale in a fun and beneficial team-building activity. And a Ride team is a natural fit for a corporate wellness program. Some companies have events leading up to the Ride, and others have gatherings at the Finish Line Party for their employees.
The UPAF Ride for the Arts Team of the Year competition was developed in 2011 as a way to build competition among the largest teams, and thereby help to increase the size of those corporate teams and make the strong teams even stronger. The winning team each year, with the highest percentage increase among the ten largest teams from the year before, receives the traveling trophy and bragging rights for the rest of the year. The Ride’s namesake, Team Miller Lite, was the 2014 Team of the Year.
Pedals Pushing Pledges for the Performing Arts
Due to great support from sponsors like Miller Lite, Wheel & Sprocket, Marcus Theatres, and Johnson Controls, the Ride for the Arts offers valuable pledge prizes, including bicycles and even a biking vacation for the top pledge raiser, to give riders incentives to raise pledges for the performing arts. The entry fee only helps to cover the cost of the Ride, so UPAF relies on pledges, rider donations, and sponsorships to give back to the community. Supporting the performing arts, a vital part of the culture in our community, is a strong motivator, but the pledge prizes give additional enticement for riders to raise dollars for UPAF and the performing arts groups it supports.