Ballard to review city's art spending: Arts leaders concerned gains made during Peterson's tenure will be lost

November 12, 2007

Mayor-elect Greg Ballard said he's got nothing against spending city money on the arts, but his administration nevertheless will evaluate whether devoting $2.5 million to it each year is the best use of that money.

"It's OK to fund [the arts] as long as people are relatively safe in the city," Ballard said.

Though acknowledging Indianapolis' "vibrant arts community," Ballard said it's mostly privately funded.

"I'm not saying I'm going to cut all of the arts [funding]," he said. "We'll just take another look at it."

Ballard's noncommittal stance has some arts backers worried about the future.

"I can only say that many people in the arts community ... have not met [Ballard]," said Greg Charleston, president of the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Without having met the mayor-elect, Charleston and others can only react to comments about trimming arts spending that Ballard made while campaigning.

"We're concerned about that," Charleston said.

The council gets $2.5 million from the city each year, a little less than half its $5.3 million annual budget. The rest comes from contributions by individuals and organizations.

City money can be used only for administrative costs and grants to area arts organizations. Recipients include the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis and others.

Charleston said many grants pay for community-outreach efforts, such as underwriting symphony performances for schoolchildren.

"These are all programs that might not happen otherwise," Charleston said.

The council's city funding has about doubled from when Mayor Bart Peterson took office in 2000 but has remained flat the past several years.

Charleston said he hopes that once he sits down with Ballard's transition team, he'll be able to make a case that the city's money has been well spent.

"We have to be optimistic that once we sit down with mayor-elect Ballard and the city councilors, we'll be able to educate them about the value of what we're doing and gain their support," he said.

The arts council's public funding comes from two sources-$1.5 million from the city parks budget and $1 million from the Capital Improvement Board. The $1.5 million is the only arts funding in the $1 billion city budget, which may be reason enough to keep the set-aside in place, said Bill Blomquist, a professor of political science at IUPUI.

While it would be an easy cut for Ballard to make, Blomquist said, it's not enough money to really make a dent elsewhere.

"A Republican majority on the council and [Republican] mayor don't lose political points by cutting arts [funding]," he said. "But it doesn't free up much money."

And any cut has to be weighed against the potential impact, including whether it might decrease the city's lure as a tourism center, he said. Others argue the city funding is important simply as a symbol of support for the arts.

"It's a pittance, but it's a gesture of saying that we recognize that the arts are important economically," said Jeffrey Sparks, president of Heartland Truly Moving Pictures. Sparks was concerned about Ballard's comments that he would cut arts spending and sent out a lastminute letter of support for Peterson.

Sparks said Heartland-which has a $3.5 million annual budget-wouldn't be devastated if it didn't receive the $22,000 it got from the Arts Council this year. But the money, along with Peterson's frequent use of the mayoral bully pulpit to support the arts, showed that the city valued cultural offerings.

Ballard's comments, on the other hand, seemed to be "a clear signal to the arts community that the city doesn't appreciate what they bring to the table," Sparks said.

Other high-profile arts and cultural initiatives have city involvement but don't get public money. Take the large public arts displays, such as the planned Chakaia Booker sculpture exhibits, which are funded by the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission-a Peterson pet project.

The commission, most members of which serve at the pleasure of the mayor, got half its $10 million in startup funding from the Capital Improvement Board, an agency that gets funding from a portion of the county's cigarette, hotel, and food and beverage taxes and rents paid at properties it manages, such as Conseco Fieldhouse and the Indiana Convention Center.

Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment contributed the other $5 million of seed money, which ran out in 2006. An additional $2.5 million endowment grant will fund the commission's work this year and in 2008.

Commission Director Jenny Guimont said she's never met Ballard but looks forward to sitting down with his transition team and explaining what the group has accomplished.

"I don't know much about him, but I'm interested to see what his administration looks like and their attitude and feelings about the arts," she said.
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