The fate of the Cultural Development Commission, formed in 2002 under former Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson, rests with the city's Capital Improvement Board, a cash-strapped entity that runs the Indianapolis Colts' new Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I don't know if we have the money or not," said Bob Grand, CIB president. "My goal is to keep the commission functioning because the arts are very important to the city of Indianapolis."
Grand, who was appointed by Republican Mayor Greg Ballard, added, "The mayor and all of the mayor's folks have made that a high priority."
The nine-member commission keeps a low profile, but it's behind a host of highly visible projects, including public art and the creation of "cultural districts," such as Fountain Square. "Mass Transit," the recycled-tire sculptures that dot downtown street corners, is among the commission-funded projects.
In 2001, CIB and Lilly Endowment Inc. each contributed $5 million to back the new commission.
"We were created by our funders," Chairman Ted Boehm said. "The money was in place before we were."
Boehm is an Indiana Supreme Court justice who was the first chairman of the Indiana Sports Corp. He said the city and Lilly Endowment envisioned a similar collective effort to make the city a cultural destination.
"And it has had a very good effect on getting all aspects of the cultural and tourism scene to work together," he said.
Three organizations — The Arts Council of Indianapolis, Indianapolis Downtown Inc. and the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association — actually manage the commission's projects. Those include the "Be Indypendent" marketing campaign, small grants to local arts groups, and buying television ads aimed at leisure travelers in Cincinnati, Louisville and Chicago.
The $10 million in start-up money lasted through 2007. To keep the programs going this year, the Lilly Endowment kicked in another $2.5 million.
Now the commission's start-up cash is gone, and CIB faces its own financial problems. As IBJ reported in August, the Capital Improvement Board expects a $20 million operating deficit at the Colts' new stadium in 2009.
To explore funding options for the commission, Boehm invited Grand, Lilly Endowment President Clay Robbins and Deputy Mayor Nick Weber to an Oct. 20 meeting.
"I think they understand the importance of the programs, and they have a direct revenue benefit in generating hotel and restaurant taxes that go to the CIB," Boehm said.
Boehm thinks CIB will come up with some money.
"The question is, at what level will we continue to exist? Not whether," he said.
A Lilly Endowment spokeswoman would not comment on future funding decisions.
"Every signal we get is, they'd be willing to play if the public half of the partnership holds up," Boehm said.
The commission has $418,059 left to spend in 2009, and it already has paid for next year's public art installation, a replacement for "Mass Transit" that the Arts Council will announce in the next month.
The general public might not notice the cash dwindling, or even know the Cultural Development Commission exists. But arts and community leaders say it's been fulfilling a key role.
In 2008 alone, the commission budgeted $590,000 for public art. Arts Council President Greg Charleston said he'll try to raise money from other sources to continue the citywide exhibitions.
Likewise, the commission plowed $348,000 into the cultural districts this year. Because of that investment, the neighborhoods have drawn $3.9 million from other sources since 2003, said Tamara Zahn, president of Indianapolis Downtown Inc.
"It's helped to generate excitement and identity that wasn't there five years ago," she said.
Nearly half the money for an $850,000 television and radio ad campaign came from the commission.
The desire to change the city's image goes back to the administration of Stephen Goldsmith, who served as mayor from 1992 through 1999.
In focus groups put together for a January 2000 study on Indy's potential for cultural tourism, people said the city was "vanilla," "flat" and the "center of dull."
The commission helped "lift up the agenda," said Mary Huggard, vice president of partnerships and development for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. "They were very valuable."