Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fighting for Scraps

This morning I attended a meeting of Arts Organization CEOs and Board Chairs from Indianapolis and surrounding communities. I am the Board Chair for the Harrison Center for the Arts. The past couple of these quarterly meetings have been focused on the dire situation with arts funding in Indianapolis. We have been rallied to leverage our networks to influence lawmakers to support maintaining public funding for the arts – a worthy cause indeed. A futile one, perhaps.

Here is a summary of my thoughts on the recent history of arts funding and the Capital Improvements Board (CIB) debacle:

After hearing Mayor Ballard speak to arts and parks funding at an arts event last year and later at an Indianapolis Parks Foundation fundraiser I thought “we’re sunk.”

Early this year, after much reading and parsing an understanding of the convoluted relationships of the CIB, the City-County Council, the Mayor and funding for the arts, I was wondering why a private company with an appointed board controls public funding for the arts in our City. When was that a good idea and how did we get there? Is this a democracy?

After the Arts Rally in April (which I could not attend) I thought that we needed less cheerleading and more preparation for battle. (Yes, I still play video games).

In April or May the CIB took down it’s website ( and I thought “Cowards.” The website remains down at the time of this post.

Back to this morning’s meeting. I sat in patient appreciation of the efforts of the Arts Council and Dave Lawrence as a case was presented for the possibility of receiving $1 million of the CIB budget for arts funding based upon the new CIB plan in the recently passed State Budget HEA 1001ss. This plan authorizes the City-County council to increase local option taxes (primarily an Innkeepers tax increase and expansion of the Marion County Professional Sports Development Area or PDSA) to help fund the CIB. But the sharing of the CIB funds is not yet determined. Apparently Mayor Ballard said something to provide some encouragement that arts might receive funding through this. I prefer to wait and see.

Then Max Anderson spoke.

And he said exactly what I have been thinking. Paraphrasing: How much longer will we try to squeeze blood from this rock in this broken system?

I am a small fish at these meetings, so I tend to sit, listen and learn. This morning Max outlined an idea to move beyond the tedium of this battle for significance with the CIB and those in our local government who do not believe that arts and culture is relevant to the point of public support. I was all ears.

Our efforts, which have been focused on paying attorneys to work within the system to salvage a “paltry” sum of public arts funding might or might not succeed. We need to focus on ways to change this battle from legal to political. We need to develop a regional strategy where arts funding is procured through legislative line-item funding - where arts organizations support candidates, not attorneys and lobbyists. Regional means reaching beyond the confines of our city-county unigov, and into surrounding counties with a healthy tax base who make up a large percentage of the arts patronage in Indianapolis.

A lot of heads were nodding. Discussion ensued and topics included embracing the current movement to legalize Sunday alcohol sales in Indiana which is projected to generate $12 million in tax revenue (some of which could help fund arts) and a mention of Denver, Colorado which obtains something like $40 million in public arts funding. That's fourty million annually. We're scrapping for one.

I am ready to whole-heartedly support a new strategy. I have no interest in appeasing the current system, which frankly seems illegal or at least utterly undemocratic to me. I am willing to fight for what our local arts organizations deserve, which is more than a meager fraction of a percent of the state’s budget. Let’s rally behind a new strategy. I anxiously await the next move.

Craig McCormick

11 Responses to “Fighting for Scraps”

Ray said...
July 22, 2009 at 4:19 PM

Thanks for this insightful post, Craig. Words that needed to be said. Let's hope that action ensues.

Nikki Sutton said...
July 22, 2009 at 6:51 PM


Anonymous said...
July 22, 2009 at 8:11 PM

Max, IMA, and some of the local art orgs are just trying to grab what little government money that is around to run their money eating organizations.
I hate saying this.
A lot of these Arts organization money never reach the artist, though there are exceptions, Indianapolis Arts council for one and a few others.
Until we have real support for the arts in this state,and this great city that is now turning into a town.
I mean real corporate support and maybe a 1 or 2% art tax on new construction.
If something like this doesn't happen the money will be given and taken away at any time the money gets tight.
The real bottom line, is the artist ever going to get and use any of this money?

Support the arts but first support the artist

ArtistDan said...
July 22, 2009 at 9:24 PM

One of the items of the Declaration of Artists Rights adopted by Artists Equity Assoc. is:

One Percent for Art in Building
"Our urban areas, new and old, need art to lift the spirits of the people who live and work in them, to affirm humanistic values and to individualize the environment. In a culture which too often emphasizes class or gross values, the need to employ fully the special vision of artists has never been greater. All planners of publicly funded building enterprises should be requited to allocate at least one percent of their construction budget to art. Architects engaged in planning privately funded major construction are urged to adopt a similar policy."

In 1987 artists and arts organizations banded together to get the City Council to fund the arts and create the Arts Council of Indianapolis. We also tried to get the 1% for art from building modeled on the successful Seattle program. It's seems we were happy with what we got.

Apparently it's time to push ahead.

Scott said...
July 23, 2009 at 12:27 AM

Thanks for the post Craig.

Anonymous, I don't think the argument of the "big house on the hill" sort of argument is really suitable in this situation. The IMA, if memory serves me correctly is operated mostly from endowments. One of the largest in the country for an art museum, I believe. (You can find a lot of the information on their budget and endowments on their web site.) I just got the feeling that you were implying nothing more than that these people and art organizations are greedy. I do not believe this to be true. We are all in the same boat. We all want the same outcome.

The idea that the money never reaches the artists is misleading. As an artist, I attend exhibitions, lectures, films and the like at the IMA all the time. I have in the past attended shows at the IRT and the Symphony. If some of this money we are discussing helps them to put on their programing or help them to hire adequate staffing so that they can run their venues appropriately, then I feel that the artists and the public in general are getting use from that money.

The flip side of this argument would simply be to give individual artists and small art organizations more grants. While I would be fine with this as an aspect of more funding, I have questions as to who would be making these decisions as to who would get what and how much. I do not want the government to make that sort of decision. Currently the Arts Council of Indianapolis is very instrumental in doing this with what little funding we have left.

A new model for funding the arts is needed. 1% for the arts would be a great start. But, I believe that the issue individual artists and local art galleries face is not city funding (though that is quite important for all of us) rather we need to inspire and promote a culture interested in buying, collecting, and caring for art. If we want small galleries and artists to get more money in their hands, then the clearest path for that is through art sales. With the closing of Ruschman Gallery at the end of the month, I think we can all see clearly how the lack of art sales by local businesses and individual patrons will severely impact the local arts community.

Anonymous said...
July 25, 2009 at 2:07 AM

I am Anonymous #2.

In the U.S. art is not considered a meaningful part of its culture. Therefore, government will never fully support and appreciate its true value.

In Europe and South America art holds greater meaning and plays an integral role in the growth and cultural enrichment of their citizens. Artists, exhibitions and organizations, abroad, have the support of their countries' Departments of Culture and of Commerce.

From past experiences with art organizations and government, in Indianapolis and the U.S., I've found that they are more concerned with making money, for themselves, than truly growing a healthy arts community and supporting artists. That's why the Capital Improvement Board (CIB), in Indianapolis, is the wrong choice and should never be in charge of funding the arts. Their name says it all, 'Capital' (all about money) and not cultural enrichment.

From an artist to another:
One thing I am a big supporter of is artists owning their art. Organize, curate and promote your art. Seek contributions outside of the known channels. Don't wait and count on the Arts Council or like organizations to validate our art. These organizations don't care about our art as much as we do. We put our hearts and energies in to our art. We stay up long hours getting things done. We work odd jobs and even second jobs to buy art supplies and to support what we do. Artists, don't let art organizations and others take credit for our art.

Art is our livelihood. We need to adopt a 'they (art organizations, galleries and museums) don't eat until we eat mentality.'

BJC said...
July 25, 2009 at 6:13 PM

First, I'm new to the site as I just met Craig and Scott at the 2nd Bloggers Anonymous a week ago at the IMA...

But this is a great post that has obviously generated a good debate. I'll try and put my 2 cents in quickly.

My main thing is the post reports on a desire to change something from legal to political without turning to attorneys and lobbyists... That's not possible in our system locally, state wide, or nationally. Try getting something solid on the books, and through committee without the two. And that's before the notion of public arts funding is added to that which is obviously political based on spending priorities on all government levels.

Also there is some element of greed. It's a business of a different flavor. The IMA has an endowment, and there would be no IMA if they outspent it. So of course they'd like as much $ as possible to expand their collections or the endowment. There are some pretty big salaries and expenses inhibiting the endowment from expanding. Oops, this could get political real fast.

Anyway, this dialog and the collective drive for more community support for the arts is why I want do this and some other things. Keep on keeping on everyone.

Craig McCormick said...
July 25, 2009 at 7:50 PM

Here's a tweet from Max Anderson yesterday:

Alternative to arts orgs being sidelined in public policy:exploring the formation of an IndyCultureMattersPAC:

Forming a political action committee would be a great step in moving from legal to political. And Barrettt (BJC), I could have been clearer in my post - Currently The Arts Council and those fighting to save the meager funding have a team of attorneys employed who are working and lobbying to save the funding. Going from legal to political means spending dollars to support the election of politicians who support arts funding (at a more substantial rate, I hope) rather than paying attorneys to fight for the money in this broken system.

Anonymous, for most local large arts organizations, or even a medium-sized one like the Harrison Center, the amount of public funding received from tax dollars is very small. At the Harrison Center, it's about 1/50th of our annual budget. Arts and culture generates tourism, business and tax revenue for Indianapolis. Certainly it is nowhere near the scale of sports teams, but our wealthy sports teams receive tens of millions of dollars of revenue back and they still can't seem to become flush with their obligations. Don't arts organizations, which provide education and advance us as a society deserve some revenue in return for what they have generated?

Much local public arts funding supports small-scale programs that have a high level of direct impact on our communities. If the funding goes away, the big institutions will remain. These small programs, many of which supplement cuts in arts education in underfunded schools, will go away.

Your comments about the "Arts Council or like organizations" owning or validating our art are baseless. The Arts Council of Indianapolis puts money in the hands of more grassroots local artists every year than any person or group in Indiana.

As for 1% for art programs, they are great. I support them. The City of Bloomington has a 1% program and has done some fantastic work with it. A few years ago there was a large road expansion project and the 1% program generated a public design competition for artists and designers to design city bus shelters. What a great idea. But I think Indy needs to move beyond this CIB mess and into a legislative line-item funding approach before such a progressive idea can get traction.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...
July 25, 2009 at 11:18 PM


Thanks for passing this info on. With his outsider perspective (among his many other gifts) Anderson is in a good position to help plant a flag for a more effective approach. I concur that political is the way to go. It allows the opportunity to form a broad coalition of artists, patrons, fans, parents who want their kids to experience the arts, businesses who understand the value of the arts, etc.

James Wille Faust said...
July 27, 2009 at 12:03 PM

Without the Arts, you are living a lie.
The Arts are a true reflection of what is happening
within any Culture, and many times a prediction.

The Urbanophile said...
July 27, 2009 at 2:52 PM

anon 2:07, the "Capital" in Capital Improvements board refers to capital assets not money, i.e., long lived fixed assets equivalent to the private sector's factories.

The Twin Cities recently passed a regional tax that supports the arts. Two things of note. 1) It was approved via referendum. Do you think people in Indy would vote for this? 2) It included items other than the arts, probably as a votes maximizing technique. I think some parks items were in there, for example.

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