Thursday, July 30, 2009

David Hoppe of NUVO Criticizes Arts Bureaucracy

Just a couple weeks after criticizing David Hoppe of NUVO for an article who wrote on the arts, he pleasantly surprises me by picking up my point - that the money we are paying for the arts doesn't actually make it to the artist but is instead funnelled to private bureaucratic organizations that spend most of the money on themselves. Hoppe and I can disagree on whether we should fund the arts, and to what degree, but we are united on the point that if we are going to do so, the money should being going to the artists and not to pay the overhead and administrative salaries of private arts organizations.

Hoppe in particular talks about federal stimulus money being channelled to groups like the Arts Council of Indianapolis instead of going to the artists and how little of that money filters down to the actual artists. I pick up his excellent analysis of the problem about half way through. You can read his entire column here.

... Although the life and vitality of our country's cultural scene is similarly challenged -- a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts shows double-digit declines in audience for virtually all forms of live arts experience over the past 20 years -- the country is now stuffed with non-profit arts organizations. This arts bureaucracy has created a handy distribution system for public monies. Indeed, the NEA was quick to say it would rely on this system for doling out stimulus dollars.

But this is also a system that favors arts administrators over independent artists, arts organizations over works of art.

According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, the Indiana Arts Commission will receive $323,000 and the Arts Council of Indianapolis will get 250,000 in stimulus funds. After setting aside money to pay themselves (the ACI will keep $50,000), the organizations will combine the rest to create a larger pot. So far, 24 organizations, ranging from the Friends of the Frankfort Library to the Eiteljorg Museum, have been identified to receive grants of between $7,500 and $25,000.

These organizations need the money. And the dedication and hard work of the people who will be employed is not in question.

But there is no getting 'round the sense that, rather than a stimulus, this federal money is the merest form of life support for many organizations -- and temporary at that. This money will keep doors open for another six months or so. Then what? The IAC's lame suggestion that it might use stimulus money to hire not artists, but consultants to advise organizations on fund raising strategies only adds insult to injury.

By being more about propping up a self-serving bureaucratic infrastructure than encouraging new forms, this federal support for the arts oddly resembles the bailouts that have been directed to financial giants deemed "too big to fail." Unfortunately, the size and scope of the arts effort is too small on both counts to succeed.
I share Hoppe's outrage that the Arts Council would suggest use the federal stimulus to hire fundraising consultants instead of spending it on the artists.

Indianapolis is even worse than the feds when it comes to trusting tax money to private bureaucratic organizations, like the Arts Council, to distribute. It is something that hopefully our Indianapolis City-County Council will be more cautious of in the future.


M Theory said...

One of the hardest working women in the Indy arts scene is Jennifer Kaye. She's the former owner of the LAMP Fine Art Gallery that showcased contemporary art for local artists.

The arts council pretty much ignored her. I attended a good number of her art openings. YOu never saw these highly paid arts administrators there. They ignored the artists for the most part...except for their political favorites, of course.

I happen to know a lot about her business because I volunteered a lot of time to her former gallery.

Recently, I bought one of her paintings. Not because I needed more art, although it is an amazing piece. I bought it because she really needed money to literally buy some groceries.

You don't see her in Prada shoes and a DKNY suit and $600 Ossip glasses parading handicapped kids through a city council meeting to panhandle citizens for money.

She's too busy scratching out a living in the REAL world of the arts.

Maybe if more than 43 cents on the dollar of the Arts Council money made it to the artists, her gallery would have had some marketing help and she would still be in business.

By the way, she's now running the hot new vegan/vegetarian restaurant at the Earth House. NUVO just named Earth House Indy's Best New Restaurant beating out even Euphoria!

Unigov said...

Why would arts groups get stimulus funds ?

Paul K. Ogden said...

Unigov. good question. I think one of the things that is unreported is how stimulus money has gotten away the original purpose - using it to rebuilding the country's infrastructure.