The City-County Council gave local arts organizations a needed shot in the arm Monday night by voting 21-5 in favor of reallocating $1 million to the Arts Council of Indianapolis so that the ACI could fund grants it awarded last spring.
Those grants were originally funded based on the premise that the Arts Council would be receiving support from the Capital Improvement Board. But when the CIB was forced to cut its funding due to a multimillion dollar shortfall brought on by Lucas Oil Stadium operating expenses, as well as other costs associated with local facilities management, the Arts Council was forced to return to the City-County Council for approval of a reallocation of Parks and Recreation funds.
The alternative would have meant slashing grant support to a wide variety of local arts groups in the midst of preparations for the opening of the fall arts season in September.
A large contingent of arts advocates and administrators attended the meeting in order to show support for public arts funding. Their mood was guardedly optimistic. But, given a series of reversals regarding arts funding in the city - beginning with a cut that eliminated a third of the city's support for the arts last September - there was still concern about how the vote on the reallocation would go. As Keisha Dixon, of Asante Children's Theatre, put it, "When the elephants fight, the grass suffers."
Although a few councilors expressed reservations about funding the arts in the midst of a larger economic downturn, asking why arts groups couldn't raise money themselves through private donations and, ultimately, raising the question of whether or not funding the arts was an appropriate use of public money, a majority of councilors, representing both parties, expressed support for the reallocation.
Virginia Cain, a Republican, drew a round of applause when she said she though it was important to support the arts in order to sustain the city's commitment to downtown development. Fellow Republicans Benjamin Hunter and Robert Lutz joined Cain in expressing their belief that the city's future depended on the council showing a commitment to cultural support. "This is a necessary thing for our city," Lutz said, adding that arts organizations' impact was felt not just downtown, but throughout the community. Support for the arts, he said, "presents a vision of the city to folks around the world."
Another Republican, Ryan Vaughn, said that he felt frustrated by the lack of input the council has regarding educational policy in the city, but that support for arts funding was one way he and his fellow councilors could make a constructive contribution to city's educational offerings. Funding the arts, he said, was an opportunity for the council to affect education in Indianapolis.
On the Democratic side, Jackie Nytes complimented arts organizations on "tough steps" they have undertaken in order to continue operating during the current economic downturn. Dane Mahern congratulated the Arts Council and other arts organizations for being "forthright" in their presentations to the council, and Paul Bateman praised the work arts organizations have done in the inner city.
The sheer volume of positive comment from councilors proved a good predictor of the final 21-5 tally. As one advocate told a friend, "I came down here to see some ugliness, but we're gonna make it OK."
The council also considered an ordinance to prevent panhandling in roadways, but the proposal failed to get enough votes (15) to be adopted or defeated. It will be brought back for further consideration at a future date.