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Editorial: Bolstering Indiana arts funding necessary

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THE good news about the state of the arts in Indiana is that both candidates for lieutenant governor have announced their support for increased funding. The bad news is that the arts need a lot of funding in Indiana.

Both state Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Ellettsville, and state Rep. Sue Ellspermann, R-Ferdinand, were in agreement on that subject during a recent forum at Columbus City Hall.

Although their commonality on the subject has to be viewed in the context of the ongoing political campaign, it was especially good news to their audience, many of whom have more than a passing interest in the arts.

Their host, Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown, has made an increased focus on local arts a priority in her administration and noted during the forum that Columbus is in the process of applying to the Indiana Arts Commission for the designation of a Cultural Arts District.

Also welcoming the words of the candidates at the meeting was another individual with local ties — Lewis Ricci, director of the Indiana Arts Commission, who served as director of the Columbus Area Arts Council from 1991 to 1996.

The arts commission has been especially hard hit by budget cuts in the past few years. The total budget of the statewide organization has been cut 31 percent since 2006.

This budget-cutting approach has had ripple effects, especially in funding for arts education in the schools. School groups such as Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. have had to severely limit students’ access to arts programs.

On a community basis, the Columbus Area Arts Council has had to struggle over the past few years, forcing some staff members at one time to take severe salary cuts.

Although the candidates’ acknowledgments of the need for more funding are encouraging, it is no guarantee that it will actually happen.

Should it occur, however, ways should be studied to give local communities a greater say in how money for the arts is to be spent.

While there is obviously a need for an umbrella organization like the Indiana Arts Commission, individual communities with properly established programs would be equipped to determine their own progress in a development (or redevelopment) of an arts community.

By using such vehicles as the Cultural Arts District designation the city is requesting, qualifying communities would seem to have greater expertise in deciding which programs would work best for them.

Although the Cultural Arts District designation would mean state tourism could help the city in marketing its art and architecture endeavors, a direct access to state-generated revenues could practically answer such needs as more free programming of arts events for the people of Columbus.

There is no question that working out the mechanics for such a trickle-down approach could be controversial. We still have a long way to go in getting to that stage.

The important thing to note now is that at least two of the candidates for major state offices in Indiana have acknowledged the need for more arts funding.

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