State arts commission budget down 20 percent

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A 20-percent budget reduction for the Indiana Arts Commission will affect as many as 400 grant-dependent organizations
across the state.

The agency’s overall budget will shrink from $4 million
in 2009 to $3.2 million for the next two fiscal years.

Executive Director
Lewis Ricci said he’s trying to avoid across-the-board cuts in the commission’s
various grant programs, which distributed $3.86 million in the fiscal year that ended last month. But
Ricci said there aren’t many ways to cushion the blow to grantees.

“We’re looking at $800,000,”
Ricci said. “I think it will put probably a number of organizations further under pressure,” he said. “You’re
going to see organizations go out of business, merge, take different business models than they have in the past.”

At the same time, federal stimulus grants are starting to flow into the state from the National
Endowment for the Arts. Grants totaling $698,000 have been awarded to the state arts commission,
Arts Council of Indianapolis, and other large arts groups.

The federal money must be used
to save jobs. The arts commission and Indianapolis-based council will combine their grants and redistribute
more than $500,000 to two dozen organizations that have applied for emergency funds.

Ricci said about half the 85 organizations that applied were looking to
retain an executive director or artistic director.

“If they were
asking for a front-line position like that, that gives you a sense of how many organizations are
at risk,” he said.

The federal money will mitigate the state budget cut, Ricci acknowledged. But he added
that the commission must operate with a reduced budget for two years, and the stimulus money will be
available only in the first.

The budgetary buzz cut came as a surprise
to the arts commission. The Indiana General Assembly approved a two-year
state budget June 30, the final day of a special session. The arts commission fared much better in the
regular session, during which the House and Senate OK’d an 8-percent reduction.

In both
sessions, the Indiana Coalition for the Arts fought a proposal from Gov. Mitch Daniels
to cut the arts commission budget 50 percent.

Arts advocates were disappointed, but also
quick to count their blessings.

“We’re certainly happy the final budget did not
reflect the governor’s cut,” said Sally Gaskill, past president of the coalition. “There’s
a big difference between 50 percent and 20 percent.”

Sen. Luke Kenley, a Noblesville Republican who is the
chief budget negotiator, said legislators grouped the arts commission with public broadcasting, with both seen as non-essential
to government.

The allocation for Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations Inc. also was $3.2 million, down 8 percent
from $3.5 million the last year. Daniels had proposed cutting funding for the state’s 16 public radio and television
stations out of the budget altogether.

Kenley, whose wife is a painter, said he received a number of phone calls
from arts groups during budget discussions.

“They make grants as little as $500, so it has a huge impact
of drawing other monies to it,” Kenley said. “I felt like it was important to try to keep that up.”

Most of the arts commission’s grants go to artists, arts groups, and schools and libraries. About 21 percent goes
directly to major institutions.

Marion and surrounding counties received $1.29 million through the commission’s
grant programs in 2008.

The arts commission will meet later this month to finalize the smaller-than-expected budget.
Ricci is looking to eliminate or reduce specialty grant programs, such as one that allows non-arts organizations to host ensemble
performances and other one-time events.

That will keep more money available for the commission’s main grants
to major institutions and regional partners.

Ricci also wants to help grantees learn to survive the wintery budgetary
climate. The commission might use some of its federal stimulus money to hire consultants who can advise organizations on fund-raising
strategies, or how to execute mergers.

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