Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard contends that investing in the arts is a sound economic development strategy. "It's important to have cultural amenities, just like it's important to have professional sports teams,'' he told The Star's Jason Thomas.First, I'm not at all certain why the Star believes that Mayor Ballard has somehow shortchanged the arts. Arts spending continues unabated. The City continues to pour millions into the Arts Council of Indianapolis which acts as a distribution mechanism for local arts spending. As I have pointed out previously, only a small percent of our tax dollars paid to the Arts Council actually makes it to the artists. (See additional column on this topic as well.) Most of the money is spent on the Arts Council salaries, other administrative costs or stashed away in investments, which now total several million dollars.
That's an argument that Brainard's counterpart in Indianapolis, Greg Ballard, needs to hear and understand. While Carmel appears to be aggressively targeting Indianapolis' cultural institutions, the leadership in this city remains complacent.
Second, the Star's citing professional sports investments as an analogy for why it makes economic sense to pour money into the local arts also fails basic economics. People who attend professional sporting events are typically local people spending their discretionary income. If they spend their money on going to the Pacers game or to the Indianapolis Symphony, that is money they don't spend to take the family out to the movies or to dinner. You don't have an increase in spending with the professional sports or the arts. You're simply moving around the spending.
Finally, it is mystifying why the Star would write an editorial praising the Carmel Regional Performing Arts Center as a good example of public spending while completely ignoring all the problems and scandals that have been associated with that project. Mayor Brainard low-balled private contributions to the Arts Center, leaving taxpayers picking up the tab. Further, he, his attorney and the city's spokesperson were put in control of the private foundation to run the Arts Center. I explained this set up in an earlier column.
A troublesome twist to this public-private setup is that Carmel Mayor James Brainard is one of the founding directors and an officer in the Carmel Performing Arts Foundation. [Foundation director Nancy] Heck, also a founding member, is the City's spokesperson. A third officer/founding member is Douglas Haney, who is Carmel's attorney. Heck and Haney both receive their positions through appointment by Mayor Brainard, as do a majority of members of the Carmel Redevelopment Commission.Taxpayer money is being used to pay new artistic director for the Performing Arts Center, Michael Feinstein, a $500,000 (maybe more) annual salary. It is not clear though that Feinstein is going to actually have much time to earn that salary. As the IBJ notes:
Feinstein won't have any time of course. Carmel is using at least a half million dollars of taxpayer money to purchase Feinstein's name under the guise of his doing work in running a facility, work he is never going to do. (Which raises interesting ghost employment issues since tax dollars are being used to fund Feinstein's salary.) Because Feinstein is not going to be available to do the work, Carmel taxpayers are having to pay $200,000 more for an executive director to actually run the Carmel Arts Center.
It looks like Michael Feinstein, the high-profile Artistic Director of the Carmel Performing Arts Center, will have a busy 2010.
His show "All About Me" will be opening on Broadway in March. It's his first Broadway bow since 1990's "Michael Feinstein in Concert: Piano and Voice." More on the show from Playbill.com.
Feinstein also owns his own NYC club, Feinstein's at Loew's Regency and, according to his website, will be serving as Director of the Popular Song Series for Live at Lincoln Center.
And that's not all. He's also now working on a proposed Broadway musical version of "The Thomas Crown Affair." Plus he's prepping a globe-trotting PBS TV series, "Michael Feinstein: Man on a Mission."
The question, of course, is: How much time will he have for Carmel?
For the Indianapolis Star to cite Mayor Brainard's Carmel financial misadventures as an example Indianapolis should aspire to is a frightening thought.