Democrat lieutenant governor candidate Vi Simpson, right chats before a forum at Columbus City Hall Friday September 14, 2012. Sue Ellspermann, Republican, and Simpson, each addressed the role the arts would play in their administrations and responded to questions. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Republican lieutenant governor candidate Sue Ellerman Ellspermann addresses the audiance during a forum at Columbus City Hall Friday September 14, 2012. Espermann and Vi Simpson, the Democrat candidate for lieutenant governor, each addressed the role the arts would play in their administrations and responded to questions. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Indiana’s major-party political candidates for lieutenant governor both endorsed funding increases for the arts during a political forum Friday in Columbus City Hall.
The main difference in their positions, however, was how quickly extra dollars could be dedicated to boost those efforts.
State Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, advocated that part of a $2 billion surplus in the state’s $11 billion annual budget should be used to bolster sagging arts support.
State Rep. Sue Ellspermann, R-Ferdinand, agreed that the Indiana Arts Commission needs a bigger budget, but said boosting it could take time.
The candidates addressed about 70 people from all areas of the state during the arts commission’s quarterly meeting.
“We grew that surplus partly on the backs of artists, artisans, arts organizations and others in the state,” said Simpson after the meeting. She also said $1 million in cuts came from public schools, an area she said badly needs the arts.
Simpson is running with Democratic governor candidate John Gregg.
Simpson pointed out in a brief presentation that the Indiana Arts Commission, headed by former Columbus resident Lewis Ricci, has endured cuts of 31 percent since 2006 to its $3.5 million budget.
“You have been miracle workers,” Simpson said to Ricci and other staffers.
She also said arts activities directly boost the state economy by $5 million annually. But she told members of the audience not to remember what she has said, but how she has repeatedly voted to support arts funding, including public art such as the local arts sculptor program.
Ellspermann, the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep Mike Pence, a Columbus native, said she strongly supports the arts. In fact, her consulting company, Basadur Applied Creativity, has worked on behalf of a range of arts groups and functions, from the Evansville Philharmonic to the Sisters of St. Benedict.
Ellspermann said arts support is perhaps more important than ever with a work force transitioning from manufacturing to one fueled by creative ideas and concepts.
“Yes, we want great analytical thinkers, but we’ve also got to have creative problem solvers,” she said, adding that the arts help provide that.
She also said she and Pence support arts in education. She touted, for example, the strong presence of the Indiana touring music group, Tales & Scales, advocating music education in Hoosier classrooms. She also mentioned that her own children grew up with piano lessons.
Ellspermann said she supports the arts as a tool for economic development. She said that includes using it to attract companies looking to move to Indiana and give its workers a solid quality of life. She also said she has been a supporter of the Indiana Artisan program promoting top-tier Hoosier artists.
Although regarding the timing of potential funding increases, “we’d have to look at all things collectively,” Ellspermann said.
All candidates for Indiana governor were invited to the forum, but schedule conflicts prevented them from attending.
At the beginning of Friday’s session, Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown mentioned that the city’s commitment to the arts includes its nearly completed application to the arts commission to be designated a Cultural Arts District.
Such a designation downtown would mean state tourism would help market Columbus and its art and architecture scene.
Brown mentioned after the meeting that, though city budget reductions included a 10 percent slice of Columbus Area Arts Council funding for 2013, the city still provided $150,000 of the agency’s $560,000 budget.
“Ideally, what I want for that money is a variety of free programming accessible to every adult and child in this community,” Brown said.
Greensburg’s Jeff Kuehl, president of Indiana Coalition for the Arts, said he was pleased to hear some direct answers about arts funding from candidates.
“The good thing is, we didn’t get a lot of mush,” he said. “At a forum, you easily can leave with both candidates’ cars parked in neutral.”
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