Carmel council seeking 'autonomous' arts grants process

September 6, 2013
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Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard does not support a City Council effort to shift control of the city’s annual arts grants from his office to the Center for the Performing Arts.

The council is weighing an ordinance that calls for the not-for-profit to appoint an Arts Fund Committee that would earmark public funds for organizations it determines are “a vital and necessary part of the arts community.”

Now, the mayor accepts applications from the city’s Support for the Arts Fund and submits his grant recommendations to the council for approval. This year, members held up more than $700,000 in funding for months over concerns about a possible budget shortfall.

Finance committee Chairwoman Luci Snyder introduced the measure this week, saying it is an attempt to remove “politics and personalities” from the grant-making process—and get arts experts involved.

“We support the arts, but we are not arts professionals,” she said.

The ordinance would cap grant funding at 1 percent of the city’s general fund budget, about the same amount now distributed each year. After the council allocates the money, the Center’s committee would choose recipients through what Snyder described as an “independent and autonomous” process.

The 2-year-old Center for the Performing Arts, which gets more than  $2.5 million in direct support from the city, would not be eligible for the grants. But organizations that share space in its City Center arts complex would.

Snyder said the proposal is a sign of the city’s faith in Center leaders’ ability to make decisions that benefit the arts as a whole.

“It lends gravitas and prestige … if their internal committee makes the choice,” she said. “Supporting other groups is good for the complex and for the community.”

Center CEO Tania Castroverde Moskalenko said she is honored by the show of confidence, but the organization’s board still needs to review the proposal and decide whether to participate.

“It speaks volumes about the trust they have in the financial stewardship of the center,” she said, but “there are pros and cons to taking this on.”

She speaks from experience: The Germantown Performing Arts Center in Tennessee accepted a similar responsibility during her tenure there. Moskalenko said overseeing outside grants is a big order for an organization that already has a lot on its plate.

Then there are the political considerations. Brainard said in an email that he opposes the current proposal despite its similarity to Indianapolis’ approach, where a panel of outside experts makes arts grant decisions.

“We specifically made the decision to do it differently when the arts grant program was established" so that elected officials controlled public money, he wrote.

Brainard prefers the process established when the arts fund was established in the early 2000s: The council allocated funding and he disbursed the money after consulting with an advisory committee.

He said the current system, where the council signs off on the grants, is not ideal because it delays the process.

The new ordinance—sponsored by Snyder, council President Rick Sharp and Councilor Eric Seidensticker—now heads to the finance committee for discussion before a vote by the full council. Assuming the sponsors all vote for the proposal, it only needs one additional "aye" to pass.

What’s your take on the idea?

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  • Wow. I agree with Brainard!
    I rarely find myself agreeing with Mayor Brainard as I think he's been drunk on public money for too long and has way overspent dollars, but in this case I actually agree with his argument that the decision making and responsibility of spending tax dollars should remain with elected officials. I think the council is making a mistake by shifting the responsibility to a non-elected body.
  • Carmel - Just Stop It!
    This from the same guy who thought it wise spending for all of those extremely expensive (way too many) statues around town and possibly a participating player in the Great Hamilton County Squirrel Stampede statues? Maybe the CFPA will be more thoughtful about grant budgets, since with the Paladium, they know all about expenses and red ink.
  • To- Carmel Just Stop It
    I live in Carmel and I think that those statues are fabulous AND wish there were more throughout the city! The Palladium on the other hand wasn't an idea that I was fond of given the costs and limited use. However, I did understand Brainards' vision on that endeavor. Say what you want about the Mayor; he has a vision and the city is first class and very well regarded across the US. People don't like him because he runs the city as a "good ol boys club". Because of that, things actually get accomplished instead of languishing in bureaucratic jousting.
  • Chickens will come home to roost...count on it.
    You folks in Carmel will be cursing Jim Brainard's name in another generation, when the bill comes due for all the money Carmel is spending in order to try and out-big-city the big city just south of it. Mark my words.
  • WRONG!
    Fuzzy is WRONG! We are paying for all the Carmel infrastructure NOW and still have the lowest tax rates in the state. In another generation it will all be paid off and and will have even lower taxes. Jealousy, Fuzzy, is a bad thing. Get your facts right.
    • Carmel is great
      Let's see major corporations moving to town a new highway. More retail choices. I see revenues going up not down. I say my taxes which are low now are lower in 10 years while my property value goes up. I do not always agree with Brainard's vision but I agree with the plan to improve
    • Carmel Taxes
      Carmel residential taxes are no lower than any other city in Indiana since there is a 1% cap. Carmel spends more on than the Arts per capital than Chicago. In addition to these grants we are giving the Palladium $2.5M to cover operating expenses and also paying the bond on the almost $200K construction cost of of the theatre buildings.
    • WHO decided?
      The story states Brainard said in an email that he opposes the current proposal despite its similarity to Indianapolis’ approach, where a panel of outside experts makes arts grant decisions. “We specifically made the decision to do it differently when the arts grant program was established" so that elected officials controlled public money, he wrote. Uh, Mr. Mayor you say we? This is confusing on so many levels. We all KNOW who pulls the strings and it's the same fellow that toots his own horn. I feel for Tania Castroverde Moskalenko as she is probably remembering how you dismembered her predecessor.
    • Nope
      George might want to check out the terms of the Carmel taxpayer's $200,000,000.00 bailout of the CRC and the 4CDC. It's going to be ugly when the big payment is due and the current City Council kicked the can down the road so another City Council in the future will have to deal with it. At least that's what Councilor Rider said.

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