LEADING QUESTIONS: Arts groups strive to keep lean

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Leading Questions

Welcome to the latest installment of  “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” where  IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about their industry and the habits that lead to success.

Dave Lawrence, 42, was named president and CEO of the Arts Council of Indianapolis in December after an 11-year career with the arts funding and advocacy group. Intimate knowledge of the group's programs and the local arts community would be vital in guiding the not-for-profit through perhaps the most challenging period in its 23-year history. Local government grants, which the council allocates to the city's arts groups, have shrunk from about $2.5 million in 2007 to $1 million this year. In that time, the group's budget has fallen from $5.5 million to $2.8 million.

In the video below, Lawrence discusses his hopes for continued support from the city of Indianapolis in its 2011 budget, which will be announced later this month, as well as prospects for finding alternative sources of city funding beyond the general fund. And as arts organizations struggle to find places in their already notoriously tight budgets to trim expenses, Lawrence notes the dangers in the recent trend of pruning programming and rehearsal time.

Public funding for the arts has been a divisive issue for decades. The Council found itself in the middle of that debate in 2008 when some local interests, anxious about big increases in property taxes, took aim at the city's budget for arts funding. In the video below, Lawrence discusses the group's initial response to critics and how it needed to sharpen its message.


  • Dave Lawrence as new president - Geezz!!!
    When the Arts Council announced Dave Lawrence would take over the organization as president, I thought OMG! He is so arrogant and disrespectful to people. He is such an elitist and is always looking down his nose at others because of the high opinion he has of himself. I love the arts, but I can guarantee you, nobody in the arts community wants to deal with him.
  • Correction
    Sorry, Jeff. I put my name in the wrong place. I am Gary responding to Jeff...not the other way around. Sorry for the confusion.
  • No, Gary
    George is right. Take a look at the Arts Council's 2008 return which is on-line now. The Arts Council has $3,277,773 in cash and short term investments. That's not the Artsgarden. And that $3,277,773 is BEFORE other investments they have.

    Most artists I know despise the Arts Council. The organization is little more than a elitist bureacratic monstrosity that sops up funds that would otherwise be going to the artists themselves. When the Arts Council goes before the Council asking for money, understand they're not asking for money for the arts, the Arts Council is asking for money to pay themselves...and quite handsomely I might add.
  • Transparency
    I encourage the Arts Council to publicly publish salaries and expenditures. The annual report is purposefully vague. The salaries at the Arts Council are bloated. How about the IBJ delve into the 990's and publish the information?

    The Arts Council has virtually no positive impact on the arts. They would not be missed by the arts community.

  • Accurate info
    The "millions stashed away in assets" that George references is the Artsgarden. Not some sinister motive that you seem to imply.

    It's not worth detailing the other inaccuracies because George has a philosophical problem with providing funding for the city's arts organizations via tax dollars. Additionally, if he really knew all the work that the Arts Council does, he would know that it is recognized nationally for the grants it does provide to individual working artists every year (not via tax dollars).
  • Tax Return
    Actually I believe the 2008 return is out now which said pretty much the same thing. As far as the staffers goes, up until about 9 months ago, the Arts Council's website listed 19 employee. I haven't looked at it since then.

    Certainly you don't dispute that Lawrence is making a six figure salaries as well as others at the Council are as well? And certainly you don't dispute do you that the Council has millions stashed away in assets?

    As far as I'm concerned, the Arts Council getting $1 million is $1 million too much. I want to see that money go to actual artists, not so Lawrence and others over at the Arts Council can live high on the hog while pretending to care about working artists.
  • Hold on
    George: I'd caution you from using 2007 tax year information as a basis for your current objections to the Council. As I note in the story above, their current budget is roughly half that of 2007. The Council now has significantly fewer staffers (about a dozen, I believe). Its only contribution from local government is $1 million made available through the city's general fund, and it's all earmarked for artists and arts organizations, not administrative costs outside the grant program. The Council recently moved to different (and smaller) offices and subleased the former space, which is saving the organization about $100,000 per year.
    • No Profit
      Dan, the Art Council better not be making a "profit" since it is a non-profit organization.

      The Arts Council is no different from virtually every other non-profit cultural organization in this city. They all pay outrageous salaries to their executives and take most of the money that should go to the cause they are supposed to serve.
    • Tax Records

      The information came from the Art Institute's tax records which are available on-line since the the institute claims non-profit status. Please identify what in my post was inaccurate.

      According to the Arts Council's 2007 tax return, administative costs total $2,784,836. This includes $1,038,608 spent on salaries and benefits for their 19 paid employees. The former President of the Arts Council, Greg Charleston alone pulled down $170,391 in compensation. David Lawrence, then a VP, made about $111K. The Arts Council showed $10 million in accumulated assets on its 2007 return.

      The Arts Council spends most of the money it receives, including money from taxpayer, on paying the Council's own executives lavish salaries to its executives and banking most of the rest of the money.

      Does the Arts Council really need 19 employees? It is tremendously foolish for the City to give money to the Arts Council is tremendously foolish. The money should be going to the artists themselves, not to some bureaucratic organziation which eats up most of the money.

      • ACI Important on many levels
        Those who can remember how fragmented the arts community was before 1987 can tell you how important the Arts Council is. The staff at ACI are involved with organizations and engaged with individual artists. They provide more services than just handing out grants. The Arts Council is the only tax supported group that can show a profit. We should be investing more into their efforts.
      • Get the facts before you post
        I'm not sure where you researched to come up with your information, but it is 100% inaccurate. I find it troubling that the IBJ would let your comments remain given how inaccurate they are.
        • Arts Council is a Joke
          The Arts Council is a joke. They have a bloated staff with several people making six figures. Lawrence's salary is obscene. They basically act as a clearinghouse for grants...wait they don't even do that - they delegate that to another bloated arts agency out of New York City.

          The Arts Council exists only to enrich the people that work there. Every artist in the agency should hate the group because they siphon off precious money with their bloated administrative costs, money that would otherwise be going to the artists.
        • No Problemo
          Have those that need arts $$$ to contact Carmel's Mayor Brainard. He's got hundreds of millions of dollars floating around, so he thinks, anyhow.

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