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Column: Council boosts programming, residents’ exposure

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Columbus Area Arts Council has been a cornerstone for cultural development during our 42-year history. We have worked closely with mayoral administrations, employed countless local artists and brought engaging arts activities to the community, all while being responsible fiscal stewards. The daily work of our board and staff impacts the quality of life in Columbus.

In 2013, the Arts Council offered more programming, provided more organizational support and reached more people than ever. In addition to 27 individual arts-related programs we already produced and/or supported, we added two new ones — an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day program and Art Break Day. All but five were provided at no cost to attendees, which means tens of thousands of people were able to experience some form of the arts for free.

This year, we have again increased programming. Live on the Plaza, which drew thousands to the newly redesigned Library Plaza, and Artz Daze, which allows for free, hands-on art classes, have been huge successes.

Other recent successes include installing eight new sculptures in the Columbus Arts District as part of the Columbus Indiana Sculpture Biennial, and dedicating Modern Totem, the Arts Council’s first commissioned piece of public art and a gift to the citizens of Columbus. Through these programs we touch thousands of individuals.

It pains us that Mayor Kristen Brown discounts the valuable contributions we make.

In recent Facebook posts, she writes: “The Arts Council doesn’t work with the local artists and arts organizations. Many other people would like to see their local tax dollars going to support local artists and arts organizations rather than ones from out of town.” Her statement is inaccurate and shows a lack of regard for artists and organizations with whom we routinely work.

The Arts Council commissioned local artist Martin Beach to create Modern Totem; employs two or three local artists at each Artz Daze; and hires local musicians for Block Party and Meltdown.

We also work and collaborate with local arts organizations and community partners daily. We serve as fiscal agent for Mill Race Players and Déjà Vu Art and Fine Craft Show; work with Commons management on all technical needs; partnered with Columbus Indiana Philharmonic to bring Black Violin to the summer strings camp; book Dancers Studio annually for First Fridays for Families; and hire local artists from Dancers Studio and the Philharmonic for VSA Festival.

Much of the work we do revolves around our long-standing history with The Commons. Mayor Brown states in a recent Facebook post: “Parks has continued to pay the Arts Council to program The Commons even though Parks does it.” This statement is inaccurate; the Arts Council does not receive compensation from Columbus Parks and Recreation for the programming we produce and perform in The Commons. In fact, we pay $9,000 to $12,000 in rental fees of the performance spaces annually. Our Commons programs account for a significant percentage of the free community programming offered there.

The Arts Council’s technical director provides coverage for most of the events that take place in The Commons and at Mill Race Park amphitheater. In total, the Arts Council provides more than $30,000 in facility rental and service to the city in exchange for office space we estimate to be valued at $20,000 annually. For these reasons we are frustrated by the insinuation that the Arts Council receives a free ride from the city.

Over and above our service to The Commons, the Arts Council gladly provides about $25,000 in staff time to more than a dozen other community events with nominal, if any, compensation.

The positive relationship we enjoy with the city and Parks and Recreation is vital to the ongoing work of the Arts Council. We co-present Noon Kids concerts in Donner Park, collaborate on Teen Battle of the Bands, and partner on Rock the Park. However, it appears that Mayor Brown and Parks and Recreation board president David Jones have begun trying to erode these long-standing relations through divisive and vitriolic postings on social media outlets.

Mr. Jones wrote in a recent Facebook post that we are severing our relationship with Parks and Recreation. He knows this statement to be inaccurate, as he is a member of our board and has attended three board meetings during which decisions were made to the contrary. Mark Jones, the new director of parks and recreation, will have a seat on our board, as have past directors.

In The Republic’s Aug. 3 article “Debate with city delays funding for council,” I am quoted as saying the Arts Council had an expectation of receiving funding from the city. We expected these funds, not from a sense of entitlement, but rather because Mayor Brown said on several occasions that we should expect the same level of funding from the city that we received in 2013. On that promise, we built our 2014 budget.

In another Facebook post, Jones states: “Additionally, the Arts Council enjoys free office space in The Commons yet fails to follow through on the requirements outlined in their grant from the city. Just doesn’t seem right does it?”

As stated above, we believe our time, donated in-kind to the city, more than compensates for the cost of our office space. The accusation that we have not followed through on grant requirements is preposterous.

We acknowledge the importance of accountability but hope that Mayor Brown will focus her efforts on doing the job she was elected to do and trust that we, professional arts administrators, will do our jobs as well.

The Columbus Area Arts Council has not only survived the past 42 years but has flourished and brought a high level of arts programming to Columbus that is unimaginable in other communities of our size.

Karen Shrode is executive director of the Columbus Area Arts Council.

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