Arts Council faces grants-divvying dilemma

June 1, 2009

City grants for the arts could be unusually meager this year, as a key source of funding remains in question.

The Arts Council of Indianapolis faces the unenviable task of divvying up less than $1 million, compared with $2.15 million that was awarded last year.

Because it has less money to hand out, the Arts Council is trying to devise a new funding formula that will spread the pain evenly between small organizations that focus on community outreach and the city's large museums and performing arts groups.

The cash crunch stems from the Capital Improvement Board's decision May 1 to suspend its annual grants for arts and tourism because of its own $47 million deficit.

CIB is a quasi-public agency that runs city-owned sports venues, including Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse. The General Assembly may, during a special session in June, take up proposals to ensure the agency's solvency. It's unclear if resolution of CIB's fiscal crisis would result in the arts grants' being restored.

Dozens of arts organizations count on operating support awarded by the independent Arts Council each June. The Arts Council typically announces the grants after combining money from two sources—CIB and the Indianapolis City-County Council.

Grants have ranged from $3,000 for Summer Stock Stage, which involves teens in high-value theater productions, to $251,000 to the professional Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

The suspension of CIB funds is pushing the Arts Council to make tough decisions.

The arts group was already working with a reduced contribution from the city. The City-County Council approved $1 million for 2009, down from $1.54 million in 2008. With that reduction, the impact on grantees would have been 15 percent to 20 percent, said Arts Council Executive Director Greg Charleston.

In the past, the City-County Council money was weighted toward smaller groups that do community outreach, while CIB's money was applied to organizations that draw tourists. Asante Children's Theatre, for example, last year received $5,000, all drawn from the city pool. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis received $241,000. Two-thirds of that total came from CIB.

Now, small and large organizations will have to share one much smaller pool of money.

Charleston said everyone will receive far less than they were expecting.

"If we have to pull CIB money out of that mix, that reduction might be in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 percent, or 50 to 60 percent," he said.

The Arts Council had already begun to divvy grants as usual when CIB decided to suspend its arts funding.

The City-County Council had signed off on a list of grants worth $963,000, plus administration expenses. Those grants ranged from $1,700 for IndyBaroque to $53,250 for the Indianapolis Opera. Charleston said he plans to submit a new list for the city's approval. He said the grantees will be the same, though some will receive smaller sums than they would have before the redistribution. He said he hopes to announce grants by July 1. So far, arts groups have avoided bickering about who should take the bigger budgetary hits.

"Everybody's got to sort of share in this," said Megan McKinney, executive director of the Fine Arts Society of Indianapolis. The society, which produces classical music radio, has received $5,000 through the Arts Council in past years.

McKinney said she expects to receive $3,500 or less this year.

She agrees the pain should be spread equally. If some groups are spared major cuts, "There's not a feeling of, 'We're all in it together,'" McKinney said.

"There's got to be a change in how the funding is handled," she said. "It's our job to rally together to try to change some opinions, in terms of how important arts funding really is."

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