Wednesday, July 22, 2009
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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 (http://www.iccrd.com/) 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.