Indy arts: The Ballard years

January 2, 2008
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“…  Frankly, if it comes down to another piece of art or another cop on the street, that’s not a close call.”
So said Greg Ballard in a post-election interview with IBJ.

With Ballard now officially on the job as mayor of Indianapolis, it’s no secret that arts groups—still basking in the love of the Peterson years—are a bit worried. Former Mayor Bart Peterson was a champion of arts and culture in the city and questions hover about how much value Ballard places on cultural tourism, individual artist funding, etc.

For some, such scrutiny is a good thing. In tough economic times, shouldn’t all budget lines should be seriously reviewed?

On the other hand, if every item is valued in comparison to public safety, can any “non-essentials” survive?

So what do you expect of the new mayor?

Are there convincing cases to be made for Indy arts and culture being essential? Is it time for culture to do more fending for itself? Or have local organizations been doing enough in that area?

What changes if the city arts budget shrinks?

Your thoughts?
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  • You can always put your money where your mouth is, but fortunately in politics the mouth still has value on its own. One of the best things that Mayor Peterson did for the arts and culture of Indianapolis was being a champion for the arts: he went to events, he talked to artists and culutral workers about what they thought was important, and most significantly he talked to EVERYONE about the importance of the arts and culture in making Indianapolis a world class city. His voice leveraged many other dollars. He made great use of his bullypullpit and encouraged private businesses and individuals to support the arts. And none of these things cost the taxpayer. I have no doubt the arts will survive in Indianapolis whether there is city money to support them or not. The key to growing the arts and cultural communities though comes down to whether or not Mayor Ballard chooses to use his voice to support the arts.
  • Regardless of whether or not Indianapolis artists, arts groups and businesses directly benefited financially from Mayor Peterson's Cultural Art Initiative (in full disclosure, ORANJE did), his focus on the development of an artistic and cultural identity for the city of Indianapolis brought awareness to and fostered participation in the city's burgeoning cultural scene. While a (probable) withdrawal of funding support for the arts by Mayor Ballard will not reverse the progress that has been made over the last 8 years, having a Mayor in office who does not place as much priority on supporting the arts will, over time, reduce some of the awareness and (hence) participation in the city's cultural offerings. As of right now, I am not too optimistic.
  • If the politicians in Marion County have learned anything it should be taxpayers have had it with the tax and spend policies of the past. The Arts and Cultural initiatives should continue at the expense of users, business enterprises and public support. Not at the expense of the overburdoned taxpayer.
  • The artist should have to get out and work like the rest of us. It is survival of the fitist. That is the way mother nature intended it to be. If people don't find the value in the arts then it should drop off. Why does the government have to support the arts to make it happen. Specially when some artists make very negative statements like ChristPiss that was funded by the NEA.
  • Whatever the case with arts funding, it looks like the public education system needs further scrutiny, if our education dollars are producing people who spell, punctuate, and reason like Jack.
  • Here we go. Another blog that bashes the tiny amount of funding used for the arts.

    By in large in Indianapolis, the arts are paid for by the users of those events. What little isn't paid for by these users is often funded by private donations, foundations, and corporate support. The public funding typically allows to get the arts to either artists or members of the public who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity.

    The arts will go on, that's not the issue. Just expect the middle and lower class won't have the chance to participate.
  • Oh Jack. The things you don't know. If it truly was survival of the fitest, then we wouldn't have the Colts, the Pacers, the new stadium, the old stadium,most of the hotels and restaurants downtown, the Canal, our parks, the majority of major employers in town, and most of everything else that makes Indy a great place to live. Why support the arts? If for no other reason than the economic impact. How much money does the City spend on the arts? Just about $1.5 million from the Parks budget, and yet that amount of money helps support over 15,000 jobs and generates over $21million in tax revenues for the city - not a bad return.
    And Jack, the NEA did not direclty fund Piss Christ (please get the name right) - it was over 18 years ago when the NEA gave funds to a competition that artist Andres Serrano's Piss Christ won. 18 years ago! Get over it!!!
  • I didn't see anything that led me to think Lou's bashing public arts funding here, Middle Class. He's posing some very appropriate and important questions - not least of which is: what exactly does Mayor Ballard believe about all this? (I'm not sure we know the full extent of the answer there, nor do we know what he believes or actually will do about quite a number of vital city issues.) What led you to the conclusion that Lou is bashing here?

    Also, what evidence can you present that those who don't enjoy very high incomes will miss out if public arts funding is removed? What about the question of whether the arts have intrinsic value which should be provided to those people?

    I happen to be more on your side of this matter, Middle Class. Just playing Devil's advocate in hopes that you have some support that will strengthen the case in favor of arts investment.

    For my part, I'll present some evidence: the 2007 Economic Impact Study commissioned by the Arts Council of Indy:

    http://www.artscouncilofindianapolis.org/research/economic_impact_study_2007_111.html

    It's not perfect, but it presents a strong case for the ROI of arts spending.
  • Well, I had to weigh-in on this one, being an artist myself. I have found that in this world of hustle-bustle that too few people are taking the time to enjoy the arts. This can lead to apathy in any society. There would be no outlet or break from the monotony of corporate-driven capitalism without some form of the arts. I can also say that artists ultimately shape the look and feel of everything they touch, which is usually an improvment. We all know that humans are ultimately a product of their environment and I would hate to see an environment of stale monotony led by a deflation of arts in the community!

    Just imagine if that guy from the ghetto was given a paint brush instead of a gun!
  • I have always argued that the amount and accessibility of arts and cultural events and public art (not to mention green space, but that's another issue) is as much a part of the quality of life in a city as is effective law enforcement, intact roads, steady job creation and excellent public education. If Mayor Ballard is interested in making this a more livable city AND improve the job picture, I do not think he can afford to ignore the arts as a major force to do both of those things. And since the arts are a proven economic engine for the city, it deserves consideration for public funding in the same way as a new corporate headquarters, a new mall, a new sports facility or a new convention center does.

    Maybe it's a matter of redirecting existing revenue sources--for example, many cities designate a portion of existing hotel/motel/restaurant taxes towards funding the arts and the cultural events that draw people to the city in the first place--or maybe it is, as Travis states, a matter of using some of the time of existing city-paid personnel to champion the arts or at least speak up for considering them in the city's plans and policies. This is true leadership: finding ways to maintain public commitment to the arts to enrich the quality of life for all.
  • Peterson was a big supporter of the arts? That seems surprising considering the vast majority of his supporters are illiterate.
  • I think we have to remain optimistic at this point in regards to our expectations of the new mayor. While it is my hope that Mayor Ballard will understand and promote the proven benefits of the arts and culture initiatives, i think the momentum has been established to keep the arts and culture scene flourishing with or without leadership from city government.

    We must also keep in mind that the great progress that has been made on the art and culture front in Indy over the last few years is due, in most part, to creative individuals within our community. Certainly, Mayor Peterson was instrumental in bringing the community together and providing support, but the credit belongs to the creative people making it happen.
  • Mr. Pennies, I'd be interested to see where you got the statistics on literacy rates among Indianapolis voters. I was not aware of this stunning fact before.
  • Mayor Ballard also said this in an interview with the IBJ published Nov. 10th 2007:

    I want to make it an urbane, safe city that welcomes businesses.

    Urbane = suave, sophisticated, debonair, worldly, cultivated, cultured, civilized, cosmopolitan (Oxford American Dictionary)

    The city that lacks a thriving art scene cannot claim any of these adjectives.

    I would love to see Ballard, or any future Mayor of Indianapolis, show the same level of enthusiasm and commitment to the arts as what has already been given to building Indy into a burgeoning sports town.

    Peterson got the arts ball rolling. There is apprehension because Ballard may not put any obstacles in that ball's way, but he doesn't sound like he wants to push it either. It took 30+ years of government led commitment to shape the sports scene here. 8 may not have been enough for the arts.
  • Someone stated There would be no outlet or break from the monotony of corporate-driven capitalism without some form of the arts. Now that's funny. Have you been to any corporate headquarters lately? Most have beautiful art on display in their public spaces. Art that was purchased from ....artists. If you check out the donor sections of the annual reports from the IMA, Eiteljorg, IRT, Dance Kaleidescope, Children's Museum, or just about any other arts organization you will find the names many corporations that provide funding. (How dare they!) And, if you take a longer look at those lists you will also find the names of many, many individual capitalists (those evildoers!) who are also supporting the arts and making them available to school children and others who might not otherwise be able to benefit.

    True art will survive whether or not the government supplies funding. Take a look at the timeline in your art history book. Some of the finest bursts of creativity happened during lean times.
  • Lou, thanks for some helpful discussion-inducing questions. The first question about the new mayor is “who are you – who, who, I really want to know?”

    Because I want to know if these comments reflect: a. ignorance, b. ideology, or c. politics? And I guess I hope it’s “c” – politics – because I hope our new mayor is not (a) really in the dark about these things & I really hope he is not (b) ideologically driven (pragmatic with a passion to make this city great is what I hope for), and (c) politics is just hyperbole for pragmatic purposes. Hyperbole is the lesser of the evils, but it is still worrisome.

    My process of deduction:
    a. ignorance = if people see support of arts programs as superfluous to good governance of a large American city, and they just don’t know, maybe they don’t understand that THIS IS NOT AN EITHER- OR ISSUE. They are missing so much – about costs of the enforcement only mentality, about youth crime prevention, about how much crime there really is, about the economic impact of arts organizations

    First, there are the lessons of federal prison sentencing over the last 20 years. Talking tough sounds good, but we have simply filled up all the new prisons we could afford to build. We have done the same thing in Indy & Marion County. Juveniles already on probation are not typically violated for smoking marijuana, skipping school, stealing bikes. Why? Because there is no room for them at the inn. For adults, we’ve been through years of court injunctions for overcrowding our Marion County jails. With our current levels of crime, what will it really cost to patrol the streets, operate the courts, build the jail facilities, re-employ ex-offenders with records? It’s staggering. (I guess that will provide lots of jobs for the local economy. More taxes, more revenue, more funding for the arts.)

    I’m not for being soft on crime/public safety, but the evidence is in – you don’t stop crime with enforcement alone. There must also be prevention and something engaging that connects us to a larger community. Arts organizations do this in so many ways. For example, how do you feel about being introduced to a neighbor at a crime watch meeting? How is it different meeting a neighbor at an arts event? What if we only met our neighbors at crime watch meetings? What if the nightly news had even more stories about crime and fewer stories about the positive expression of the human experience?

    The arts play a role in prevention. Is there evidence that involvement in arts, culture, religion, community service reduce the incidence of youth involvement in drug use, violence, school problems, early sexual involvement/teen pregnancy? Yes, there is strong evidence linking positive, creative activities to prevention of these problems that lead to a myriad of social problems and crime.

    Shall we also mention that culture is big business? Arts organizations spend $182 million annually in Indy and their patrons pour an additional $287 million into the economy. This generates 15,000 full-time jobs and $52 million in local & state government revenues.

    There is so much data (I’ve just gotten started) that it’s doubtful that one could actually be ignorant of all of it. (Is it too late to run for mayor?)

    b. ideology = my way of thinking leads to all the right answers to our problems, regardless of evidence to the contrary. We all have blind spots, but ideologies create more blind spots. If the new mayor thinks that supporting the arts (both dollars & raising its profile) is always a distraction from the real business of a large city, then that’s probably ideology. And the proverbial “ideological blinders” will prevent him from seeing the evidence I’ve cited above. I hope this is not the case, since we’ve had enough poor decisions driven by the “privatizing is always better” ideology.

    c. politics - If it is just politics – playing to one’s base – then it leaves room for
    making practical investment in arts activities, which is the whole point anyway. When arts organizations need a nudge to do what needs to be done, the city should be open to helping make that happen – with word and incentive. But why bash the arts? It remains to be seen if Mayor Ballard is a masterful politician or just in the right place at the right time, but I hope that the mayor never uses this cops vs. art comment again. This election was won by a few percentage points and as a protest vote. On election day in 4 years, some of the current supporters will have turned again into protest voters and the mayor may be looking for some new friends. I suspect that on that day (and every day from now til then), the arts community will serve better as a community-building ally than a cause to rally against.
  • Thank you all for the detailed thoughts. I look forward to hearing more from all of you on future blogs.

    Of course, feel free to keep the conversation going here.
  • Art supporter or not... my garbage was picked up on time the week of Christmas and has yet to be picked up the week of New Year's (2 days late). Selfishly, that to me is when I call the Mayor's Action line.

    Travis hit this best in the first post. This is not really a discussion about financial support of the arts (Jack). This is a perception thing. Will we see Ballard at the Fringe opening? First Fridays? Art Fairs? Concerts? Gallery Openings? How passionate will he be at Start With Art? or will be just do the minimum to satiate the artsy types? We can't help but compare him to his predecessor who was a great supporter, no doubt.

    I am interested to see this topic in a year from now... or less.
    Let's give this chap a shot... I mean what is the alternative.
    Whine?
  • This is an opportunity for the arts community to reach out to local businesses and raise funds for public arts projects. Companies like Lilly donate lots of money each year and donating to public arts definitely improves the quality of life in any city. I'm a supporter of the arts, but not necessarily of the government subsidizing the arts. The government (any government, really) is too big as it is and subsidizing the arts isn't an essential (some would argue it's not even an appropriate) function of the government.

    Philanthropic individuals and companies like to donate their money to good causes. Many donate to various art museums and such things. Public arts should be no different.

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