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Budget slashes area arts funding

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Mayor Kristen Brown’s proposed 2015 budget eliminates designated funding for the Columbus Area Arts Council, instead requiring the council to compete with other arts organizations for about a third of the funding it usually received.

The arts council received $148,140 in city funds this year in economic development income tax grant funds. The line item for grants from the income tax money was eliminated in the proposed budget.

The mayor’s 2015 budget proposal has $50,000 available to artists or arts groups.

The proposed budget is still in its initial phase, and everything — including funding for the arts council — is up for discussion, Brown said. The city council approves the budget.

The city can’t keep writing “a blank check every year” to subsidize the arts council or the Mill Race Center, Brown said.

The organizations need to have direct accountability for how they use the money, she said.

“I think before we commit significant amounts, we really ought to re-look at all of this,” Brown told Columbus City Council members during the budget hearings on Thursday. “We need a better plan with those groups.”

The arts council would be eligible for funding through the arts programming grants, Brown said.

During the hearings, city council members criticized the lack of designated funding for the arts council and Mill Race Center, Columbus’ senior center. City council members said they received the mayor’s proposed budget for the city Wednesday night, less than 24 hours before the budget hearings Thursday morning.

Despite the short window to review the budget, all the city council members “quickly realized there was no funding whatsoever” for the arts council, or for the Mill Race Center, which also had received regular funding from the city until this year, Councilman Ryan Brand said.

Arts council representatives used the money for operations, programming, salaries and office operations, according to Karen Shrode, arts council executive director.

The arts council has received varying amounts over the past three decades, from $77,875 in 1986 to nearly $200,000 in 2008, most years as a line item in the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department budget.

But beginning in 2015, the group may have to apply for funds from $50,000 designated for arts programming grants, money included in The Commons and the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department budgets.

That money is available through a line item that Brown added after the Columbus Parks and Recreation Board approved both budgets on July 3. The parks department supervises operations for The Commons.

The $50,000 is up for grabs by different groups as needed for arts programming, Brown said. The Commons board and parks board would control who receives the grants.

Shrode said she had no further comment about the ongoing funding issue with the city.

The mayor’s proposed city budget was discussed by the city council, the mayor and city department heads at Thursday’s budget hearings.

Brown said the goal of the grants is to ensure maximum use of The Commons so the community can enjoy multiple events for free or at a relatively low cost.

The grants would go to groups like Dancers Studio, which is spearheading efforts to make Artfest “a weekend-long arts festival for community enjoyment as well as to be a regional tourist draw,” she said.

The arts council would be eligible to apply for the programming grants if it were applying for funding for a “defined program that the community wants” and that meets a variety of needs, Brown said.

But Brand, who also sits on the arts council’s board of directors, said the arts council and Mill Race Center have tried to align themselves with the city’s goals.

“Now the mayor is asking for another alignment with the goals of the city, which I think is extremely confusing,” Brand said.

And, Brand said, the mayor told him during the budget hearings that she gave neither organization guidelines for the future after the Board of Works made the final decision to grant money to both organizations after several months of disputes.

“They didn’t do the job that she wanted them to do, but she gave them no indication of how to get there,” he said.

Brown said that, while she hasn’t given formal instruction to either organization yet, she wants to sit down and have a discussion with the arts council and the Mill Race Center to understand how those two groups, parks and Commons staff can interact and become more “harmonic” in terms of offering arts and recreational programming.

That conversation needs to happen now, Brand said during budget hearings, because both the arts council and Mill Race Center are “directly affected by a large cut in their budget.”

They need to have an understanding of what money they will or will not receive from the city before they budget so they can raise funds if needed, he said.

Brand said that, despite the importance of the issue, the mayor tried to gloss over a discussion of city funding for both organizations during Thursday’s budget hearings.

“She wasn’t even going to discuss the fact that she had removed funding for those organizations,” he said.

And when they did discuss it, he said, the mayor told council members that she hadn’t had a conversation with the arts council or Mill Race staff to tell them they hadn’t been included in the proposed budget.

Brown said she has had ongoing conversations with both groups over the past year.

City council members will discuss a way to ensure that the arts council and Mill Race Center can continue to receive funding, Brand said.

Brand said he asked City Attorney Jeff Logston if the council could award the organizations city money.

Logston told him the council can give money to arts, cultural and civic organizations for any kind of support.

But in one way or another, Brand said, he hopes the council can have something in place so both the arts council and Mill Race Center can build budgets for next year.

Republic staff reporter Chris Jones contributed to this story.

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