Accounting & Finance

Red Wing Arts


“Propel Nonprofits is an organization […] that thinks about problems in terms of nonprofits, understanding that they don’t always have the same knowledge that businesses do.”

– Mary Lee, Executive Director, Red Wing Arts


Red Wing may only be a town of 16,000, but it is known as a community that invests in the arts. In fact, the town doubles in size every October for the Red Wing Arts Festival; 2018 will be the 52nd year of the festival. “We jury 100 artists, both fine art and craft,” said Red Wing Arts Executive Director Mary Lee. “It’s one of my favorite events, and it really exemplifies how invested this community is in the arts.”

Red Wing Arts started in 1952 – “that’s pretty remarkable for a small town arts organization,” noted Mary. As an organization, it’s dedicated to making art and art experiences an integral part of life in Red Wing. It does this through its gallery and art shop, both housed in the Depot Gallery and Shop; hosting art festivals and community events like concerts in the park; and by being a resource for artists in the community.

A New Leader at the Helm

Mary herself is relatively new to the organization, but not the region. As a child, she grew up going to southeast Minnesota to visit her mother’s family, who hailed from Lake City. After 25 years as a radio producer with Minnesota Public Radio and other arts-related director roles, she stepped in to lead Red Wing Arts after the former executive director passed away.

While not a professional artist herself, Mary has a strong appreciation for the arts and is an “artist by avocation.” “As a child, we didn’t go on family vacations,” she recalls. “Instead, my parents bought art, so it was always around us growing up.”

She first learned about Propel Nonprofits (then Nonprofits Assistance Fund) while she was leading a vocal ensemble group. At that time, they worked with Propel Nonprofits’ lending team to acquire a loan.

A Fresh Look at the Books

When she started at Red Wing Arts, Mary picked up the phone again, this time for help to reorganize the organization’s books. “I can manage the daily bookkeeping, but I don’t have the experience with the high-end financial work,” said Mary. Enter Chris Vanecek, Accounting and Finance Consultant with Propel Nonprofits.

“Anytime you’re stepping into a new organization, it’s a chance to bring fresh eyes to the books,” said Chris. “Mary and I worked together quite a bit when she first started to make sure everything made sense for the type of organization it is.”

Investing in Core Mission Support

Now, Chris does the monthly financials for Red Wing Arts, completes the organization’s 1099s and IRS form 990s, and takes care of paying all of their sales taxes on art purchases at their gallery. “I like working with people who are smarter than me,” said Mary. “Chris has helped us clean up our old chart of accounts, and he really brings an expertise in nonprofit accounting, which is different from business accounting.”

At Propel Nonprofits, we firmly believe that anyone can be a financial expert, as we’ve seen again and again with small nonprofits that have employees wearing many hats. However, we also understand the freedom of not having to be your own accountant. With a staff of just two people, Mary welcomed the chance to focus on bigger-picture planning and execution on Red Wing Arts’ wide range of programming.

“Propel Nonprofits is an organization with great integrity, and one that thinks about problems in terms of nonprofits, understanding that they don’t always have the same knowledge that businesses do,” said Mary. “Plus, their deep love of nonprofits makes them a great value-add to our work.”

Visit Red Wing Arts’ website to learn more about their work and to see a full calendar of events.

Photo Credit: Red Wing Arts

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