Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nuvo's David Hoppe Warns of "Arts Crisis"; Promotes More of Our Tax Dollars Going to Wasteful Indianapolis Arts Council

Today, I discuss David Hoppe's recent column in Nuvo, in which he warns us of an "arts crisis" and bemoans further cuts in arts spending. In particular, he cites the need for the city to keep pumping more money into the Arts Council of Indianapolis, which I have already cited as one of the nonprofits in this city that has been wasting our tax dollars.

Hoppe tells his tearful tale:

[I]in talking about his decision to close [his gallary, Mark] Ruschman added an important postscript. He said that if he was looking to start a new gallery, he wasn't sure he would choose to put it in Indianapolis. That's because the recent cuts to arts funding send a troubling signal about the larger community's support for the arts.

The use of public funds for the arts in Indianapolis has been an unqualified success. According to a recent study by Americans for the Arts, Indianapolis' modest annual investment of $2.5 million in 2007 reaped almost a half billion dollars in revenue for the city.

But this hasn't been enough to keep these funds from being cut over the past few months as the city has been forced to deal with a combination of fiscal problems. Although the cuts have had little more than a symbolic impact on the fiscal problems, their impact on the arts community is dire.

Cuts to the arts line of the Parks and Recreation Budget and the expected elimination of arts funding from the Capital Improvement Board budget will reduce local arts funding to less than a million dollars, effectively erasing hard won gains made during the Peterson Administration. Informed sources speculate that more cuts could be in store. The City-County Council, with the tacit approval of Mayor Ballard, appears dangerously eager to make political points by cutting what remains of the Arts Council budget.

In any event, a decade's worth of trying to persuade the city's leadership class that arts and culture are key to whether or not Indianapolis reaches the next level as an urban destination is being dismantled with breathtaking speed. The arguments that have shown that the arts contribute to economic vitality, neighborhood development, improved education and safer streets have been brushed aside. When Ballard addressed a rally of arts advocates on the Circle, all he could say was that the creative community needed to do a better job of promoting itself. Incredibly, the audience received this exhausted version of blame-the-victim with polite applause.

Looming now is the grim prospect of the city's arts organizations engaging in dog-eat-dog fund raising, a zero-sum game that will favor large institutions over fledgling start-ups to an even greater extent than is already the case. If this happens, Indianapolis will be the big loser. Such a competition will amount to a clear-cutting of the city's cultural eco-system; landmark institutions will become increasingly isolated as young and independent creatives move to more hospitable environments.

The need to overhaul how the city's cultural sector raises money, disperses funds and communicates has never been more imperative. This isn't merely a matter of saving the Arts Council, useful as that office has been to the community. For while the Arts Council has played a crucial administrative role, facilitating and channeling opportunities like the Lilly Endowment's Creative Renewal Fellowship program and the Cultural Development Commission's public sculpture initiative, it has also found itself in an awkward political spot, having to grin and bear the clueless nonsense that passes for cultural policy for fear of reprisals from the city's leadership.

Over the past few years, the arts community has managed to rally for causes like relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and HIV/AIDS. The time has come for this community to coalesce around its own survival. This won't be easy. It will fly in the face of long and habitual practice that has understandably defined self-interest in the most one-sided terms: my building, my budget, my audience. But if the arts here are to amount to anything more than discrete attractions the city uses to sweeten its pitch to conventioneers, this kind of thinking must be overcome in favor of a more holistic vision. There needs to be less emphasis on community and more on the idea of alliance.

To be powerless in an environment where power is the defining force is a terrible thing. This, sadly, is where the Indianapolis arts scene finds itself. Politicians have been able to treat cultural policy here with cavalier indifference, believing they can do so without danger of losing support. It is now up to our creative class to organize and find ways to resist this foreclosure on the city's future.
I can't ignore that investment statistic cited in the Hoppe article. So an investment of $2.5 million in 2007 produced revenue for Indianapolis in the amount of $500 million? That's a 20,000% return. If that were the case, why would we invest in anything other than the arts? I'd love to see how "Americans for the Arts" came up with that phony number. My guess is the organization simply took how much the city spends on arts and compared it to how much revenue the arts allegedly brings to the city's economy. Such an approach makes the preposterous leap in logic that the city's expenditure on arts was completely and solely responsible for all the art revenue in the city. (To see the "Americans for the Arts" exposed, click here.)

In 2007, the Arts Council received a grant of $738,500 from the Capital Improvement Board and $1,450,500 from the Parks Department. Total government contributions are listed on their 2007 tax return totaled $3,082.284, which appears to be about 2/3 of the organization's revenue in 2007. Officers of the Arts Council, made the following in salaries and benefits, according to the 2007 return:

  • Greg Charleston, President and CEO, over $170,000
  • Janet Boston, Director of Marketing, over $84,000
  • Mike Prusa, Artsgarden Director, nearly $70,000
  • David Lawrence, Vice President, over $107,000
  • Mindy Taylor-Ross, Director of Public Art, over $86,000
  • Shannon Linker, Director of Artist Services, over $62,000
According to its website, the Arts Council employs 19 staff members. The 2007 return shows the organization paying out salaries and benefits of nearly a million dollars a year. The return also shows that the Arts Council has accumulated assets of $9,645,999.

As far as other non-profit arts organizations, Maxwell Anderson, President and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Arts pulls down $394,209 while Anne Munch, Chief Financial Officer makes $150,938. Simon Crookall, President and CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra hauls in $250,224. Henry Leck, Founder and Artistic Director of the Children's Choir (which this year received a crime fighting grant) takes in $111,214. Jeffrey Patchen of the Children's Museum makes $344,345. This information is gathered from the most recent tax returns available.

Hoppe's tearful request for more tax dollars falls on deaf ears. Unless the arts community stops its wasteful spending on lavish salaries for administrative staff, our elected officials should not even consider giving the community more of our tax dollars.


M Theory said...

David Hoppe should know that the painting I bought last month from local artist Jennifer Kaye, had nothing to do with the arts council or their highly paid administrators.

The most efficient way to fund the arts is to buy art.

Let private foundations and their trusts handle public art.

Downtown Indy said...

Isn't it strange when people base their decision to open a gallery (or other business) on whether they can get a government handout?

Anyone else see the problem here?

Citizen Kane said...

See link below.
See Line 71 for Arts, Entertainment and Recreation and compare to Line 1 and 2. The Arts, etc. account for 1.4% and 1.55& of the total GDP and the total GDP of private industries. Now to pretend that the cities contribution greatly enhances the GDP contribution of the Arts is laughable at best. That 500 million that they toss around represents less than 0.6% of private industry GDP.