The city budget is in a state of shock. Officials will
have to cut $22 million in 2011 due to a shortfall in tax revenues. So this
might not seem like the most opportune time to be talking about how
Indianapolis should grow its cultural policy and fund the arts. After all,
the arts community is still catching its breath after learning last week that Mayor Ballard
isn't proposing further cuts to an arts allocation that's already been slashed
by over 50 percent.
we arts advocates just hunker down and be grateful for what we've got?
think this is actually the perfect time to reconsider Indianapolis' arts
agenda. The recent cuts to public funding have revealed deeper, structural
flaws in the way the city tries to address the arts. These flaws have prevented
us from developing a coherent cultural policymaking apparatus. The result has
left the Arts Council, the city's non-profit arts agency, without any real
political standing and, worse, with an arts community that has yet to even
approach the realization of its full potential in terms of benefits it brings
time for Indianapolis to create a Department of Cultural Affairs. If the city
is ever going to successfully add the arts to its portfolio of competitive
assets, it must get serious about how it engages with its cultural resources.
the moment our cultural life is largely left to chance. Some would argue that
this is by design, that the arts need to be independent and above political
considerations. But being above politics also means that the arts sit at the
children's table when the grown-ups make policy. And so-called independence
means that, too often, the city misses opportunities to help turn good events
into great ones.
recent examples come immediately to mind. For the past three summers, the
Heartland Actors' Repertory Theatre (HART) has produced a Shakespeare play in White
River Park. Each production has drawn a considerable crowd, bringing people
outdoors and downtown, creating needed activity along the Canal Walk, and
demonstrating a genuine demand for free theater. This is a community tradition
that's practically readymade.
HART was unable to raise the money to produce a second play this summer — and
the city missed a great opportunity. A Department of Cultural Affairs might
have seen in HART's success the chance to make a strategic investment, enabling
HART to mount a summer Shakespeare season while, in the process, enhancing
downtown's identity as a cultural destination for everyone.
Department of Cultural Affairs could also help make even more of our already
successful IndyFringe Festival. So far, the Fringe has been a boon for the
local theater scene. But, in spite of its best efforts, the Fringe has yet to
translate into a dynamic street event. You can walk down Mass Ave during the
Fringe and not be aware that there's a major performance festival taking place.
is not the fault of the Fringe, which has its hands full, producing a great and
incredibly diverse 10-day event. The city, however, is guilty of a failure of
imagination for not using its offices to create incentives that would encourage
the creation of a street festival — a Taste of Indianapolis, say — and make the
Fringe a full blown urban celebration, attracting people from across the
region. The trouble is that no such offices currently exist.
will inevitably complain about the cost of creating a new city department. The
arts, they'll say, should pull their weight in the marketplace. But this
ignores the fact that city government has intervened substantially and at great
cost in virtually every other aspect of urban development. The Colts and Pacers
have, between them, benefited from hundreds of millions of dollars of public
investment designed to keep them in Indianapolis. Corporations are given tax
abatements and free real estate to locate here.
have to be blind, lazy or both not to see the part the arts play in the success
stories of other cities around the world. To disenfranchise one of the most
basic urban building blocks by cavalierly saying it should pay its own way is
like hoisting a white flag over Chase Tower proclaiming our stubborn refusal to
invest in our creative class.
disenfranchise the arts is what we've done. The mayor inadvertently adds insult
to injury when he suggests that the city might somehow assist the battered Arts
Council in raising private funds to make up for the public money it has lost.
Apparently he doesn't get that this could put the Council in competition with
the arts community it was created to serve.
would unjustly undermine an organization that has played a necessary role in
the development of Indianapolis' cultural resources. That role, though, has
reached its limit. For Indianapolis to attain the next level of urban
development, we need to change the terms of the cultural conversation by making
cultural affairs an official part of city government. This isn't merely about
supporting the arts — it's about how best to use the arts to support the