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Impending budget cuts prompt arts funding turf war

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The staff of the Indiana Arts Commission is proposing to revamp a regional partnership system that it enacted 13 years ago as a way to fund the arts in all 92 counties of the state.

The proposal will have the greatest impact on rural communities, but it would save the agency about $344,000 a year—money that could go back into a statewide pool of grants.

There are 10 regional partner groups across the state under the current system, granting IAC funds and providing other support to artists and organizations in their territories. Under the proposal, partner groups would lose administrative funds—leading to staff cuts—with the IAC picking up the slack in assisting start-up arts organizations and projects in those areas.

Some rural partners, which would be affected the most due to their relatively small budgets, are questioning whether the IAC can provide the same level of service they do.

“We’re walking around in a funk over this,” said Eric Rogers, executive director of Arts Place Inc. in the eastern Indiana city of Portland. “The proposal is pretty devastating to the kind of work most of the regional arts partners do.”

The proposal will be heard Friday morning at the commission’s quarterly meeting in Indianapolis. It comes as the commission expects to endure another round of state budget cuts. For the two-year cycle that began July 1, 2009, the arts commission’s budget was cut 20 percent, to $3.2 million a year.

Commission spokesman Rex Van Zant said the nine-person agency can’t absorb any more of the cuts internally and wants to minimize the effect on grants. In the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009, the commission distributed $3.86 million.

“You can either sit back and do nothing, or look at creative ways to be effective, and still try to minimize the impact on the citizens of the state,” he said.

Rogers said he sees the proposal as abolishing the regional arts partnership program. He said he knows severe budget cuts are likely, but he hopes the commission will consider at least mothballing the regional system until the economy rebounds.

Under the proposal, designated partners such as Arts Place would no longer be responsible for making grants to large organizations in their areas, such as symphony orchestras. The IAC would assume that role.

The arts commission also wants to take over responsibility for technical assistance services, which means helping local people start organizations or projects. That would result in the bulk of the savings, about $144,000.

The proposal has prompted a turf battle among the arts administrators.

Rogers doubted the commission staff could provide the same level of service as his group, which serves 12 east-central Indiana counties with a budget of about $750,000 and the equivalent of six full-time employees. “They don’t have a track record,” Rogers said. “How do you get it out to people in the small communities? I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Arts Place has other sources of funding, Rogers said, but would lose about $33,000 in administration funds from the IAC under the proposal.. That would mean dropping one or more full-time equivalent employees, he said.

In centralizing services, the arts commission would work alongside its statewide advocacy organization, the Indiana Coalition for the Arts, according to the proposal. That would give the coalition a higher profile, the proposal noted.

“Almost all states (including all states in the Midwest region) have much stronger, more professional, and more influential advocacy organizations,” the staff’s proposal notes.

The coalition lobbied last year against Gov. Mitch Daniels’ recommendation to cut the arts commission's budget by 50 percent.

The one job the arts commission wants to leave to regional arts partners is re-granting funds to small organizations. They would not be allowed to give money to non-arts organizations, such as libraries that put on exhibits or concerts.

The designated regional partners would also have to compete with other arts organizations, which might receive grants from the IAC if they can show an ability to reach rural areas.

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