Thursday, January 30, 2014

Flip-flopping on HJR-3? Nay, says Don Steffy

Posted By on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 2:10 PM

click to enlarge Don Steffy (right) with Indianapolis Children's Choir colleague Henry Leck in 2008.
  • Don Steffy (right) with Indianapolis Children's Choir colleague Henry Leck in 2008.

If you read The Indianapolis Star last week, you may have thought to yourself: Just what is the Indianapolis Consortium of Arts Administrators, and why can't they make they make their minds up on HJR 3?

According to articles published Jan. 21 and Jan. 22, the consortium first committed itself to opposing the constitutional amendment — "Clearly we're going to oppose HJR 3," Arts Council of Indianapolis head Dave Lawrence was reported as telling the Star — before changing course and issuing a statement that the consortium "leaves it up to each [member] organization to take its individual stance on political issues."

So I called up Don Steffy, the newly-appointed chair of the consortium, to see if he'd spill the beans on just who opposed opposing the amendment.

Steffy's answer: The Star was a little off. He describes the Consortium of Arts Administrators as a "peer and networking group" made up of 40-plus area arts groups that meets monthly in a "collaborative spirit of dialogue." It meets "behind the wings," he says, and doesn't have "a unified voice, where we speak for each other's organizations."

The consortium has never issued statements on any legislation, and its only public activity on record was a 2009 rally advocating for support of the arts in general.

That said, the consortium did talk about a proposal to issue a statement opposing HJR 3 at its most recent meeting. But even if Lawrence told the Star the consortium would "clearly" oppose HJ-3, he didn't have the authority to say so; the Arts Council of Indianapolis isn't an official member organization (though it has been invited to meetings on a permanent basis), and Lawrence isn't part of the organization's leadership.

In short, according to Steffy, the consortium never committed itself to taking any position, either informally or via an official statement. And when member organizations discussed the proposal, it became clear that some members wouldn't be able to make an immediate decision because they're, for instance, responsible to boards or concerned with advocating for other legislation. Steffy contrasts the nimbleness of smaller member organizations with larger outfits with more substantial infrastructure that take more time to deliberate on public statements.

Which brings things back to the consortium's official statement, which leaves it up to each member organization to take an individual stance. Reached Jan. 28, the Arts Council's Dave Lawrence noted that just because an organization isn't prepared to take a stand doesn't mean that it won't, particularly if HJR 3 beats the current odds and makes it to the ballot. But, he can certainly report that his organization remains actively opposed to HJR 3. Here's what Lawrence said on behalf of the Arts Council of Indianapolis: "We're cautiously optimistic with yesterday's results, and we applaud the courage of representatives on both sides of the aisle."

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