Arts getting axed?

Rodney Veal participating in the Blue Sky Project. Rodney Veal participating in the Blue Sky Project.

A look at the struggle for arts funding in Ohio

By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Rodney Veal participating in the Blue Sky Project.

Rodney Veal participating in the Blue Sky Project.

In a nation where a nicely padded savings and retirement are an all-too-often distant memory, stealing time away to indulge a “life passion” is a far off dream for many.
And it’s for that very reason that “logic” would tell he who wields the paintbrush or takes the stage for a living that he should go ahead and trade his work for an everyday man’s 9 to 5-er.

Hey, real world point of view? Meet the artists of Dayton.

According to the Dayton Development Coalition, the greater Dayton arts community annually provides $122 million in local economic activity, 3,774 full-time jobs and more than $8 million in local and state revenue. Another fact: Dayton offers more arts organizations (85) than 79 percent of all similar sized cities, ranking 33rd in the nation out of 373 metropolitan areas in arts and culture, according to the coalition.

You can go ahead and pat yourself on the back now, Gem City artists.

“The success of Ohio’s economy is indelibly linked to the success of its creative industries,” said Ohio Art Council (OAC) Executive Director Julie Henahan. “A growing body of research shows that thriving arts communities are crucial for the financial health and vitality of their regions. In Ohio, the arts are an economic driver — they attract new businesses, create and retain jobs and produce tax revenue.”

Dayton is home to an all-star lineup of arts organizations, including Cityfolk, the Dayton Art Institute, Dayton Ballet, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, the Dayton Opera, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Dayton Playhouse, the Dayton Theatre Guild, the Dayton Visual Arts Center,  the Human Race Theatre, Muse Machine and the Victoria Theatre Association.

And new companies and artists groups are consistently on the rise.

“This is a crazy time for the arts and art makers in our community,” said Rodney Veal, an independent choreographer and adjunct faculty member for both Stivers School for the Arts and Sinclair Community College. “Risk taking and over-the-edge stuff are the order of the day.”

Veal, whose solo multimedia performance exhibition at the Springfield Museum of Art, Reveal: Five Zones of Beauty, will premiere later this month cites novice ventures, such as Blue Sky Project [], Free Shakespeare [] and Dayton Arts Project [], as prime examples of catalysts for “pushing the envelope” and continuing the art life blood within the Dayton community.

“Who would have thought Dayton would have artists in its midst who are creating large-scale performance pieces all over town?” Veal said. “Who knew it was possible? And now that it is happening, it is certainly changing the dynamics of what can and should be created [within the Dayton arts scene].”

The driving force behind new artistic endeavors is, of course, a feat unachievable without the support of the local community, in addition to arts funding and advocacy programs, like the OAC, Culture Works and Involvement Advocacy.

“We believe that public funding of a community’s arts and cultural assets — including its artists — is an important economic and community development driver,” Henahan said. “The vibrancy of a community is closely tied to its ability to attract and retain innovative firms and talented workers, and ultimately, to the quality of life that all citizens enjoy.”
But during a time when the need to purchase groceries trumps a night out at the theatre, funding for the arts or even having the gall to launch a new effort, is, naturally, a difficult concept for many to imagine.

Indeed, “Who’s going to give money to the arts right now?” is a valid question for those who work to fund artistic ventures, but it’s one to which many Dayton organizations have an answer — even if it’s a bit of a complicated one.

Take, for example, the OAC: This state agency has worked for the last 46 years to fulfill its mission through a variety of grant programs, services and resources that serve Ohio citizens in all corners of the state. In 2010, the organization awarded $5.5 million in grants to Ohio artists, schools and organizations that produce or present arts programming. Even though it received $21.5 million in requests for support, it was only able to fund 26 percent of the amounts requested. What’s more, the OAC received 1,171 applications and was able to fund 645 (or 55 percent).

According to Henahan, the OAC is slated to receive $17.2 million for the 2012-2013 biennium. This is a $4 million increase over the 2010-2011 fiscal year appropriation of $13.2 million. The largest increase came in the agency’s subsidy line, which is the money the OAC will use to make grants. That line increased by $3.7 million. On the administrative home front, the organization saw a $300,000 increase.

“The arts play a fundamental role in maximizing our state’s recovery potential, and our plan is to focus on strengthening and supporting the creative industries of this state in ways that will have a positive impact not only on our economy, but also our quality of life,” Henahan said.

Climbing the road to an increase was a rocky one. In March, Ohio Governor John Kasich proposed cutting the OAC’s budget by 19.5 percent, which would have reduced it to $10.6 million for the coming biennium, according to Henahan. But on July 1, the governor signed off on the Ohio House and Senate’s budget recommendation, which added $6.6 million back to his proposed budget for the OAC.

“So, we are very grateful to the governor and the legislature for acknowledging the importance of public funding of the arts — especially in what has been a challenging climate for state arts agencies across the country,” Henahan said.

Still, the budget bump does not mean smooth sailing for the duration of the OAC’s biennium budget. The new state budget includes a provision that will restrict the OAC’s use of any federal funds it receives each year. The provision prohibits the OAC from using its federal funds for operating costs, meaning the organization can only use its federal funds for grant-making purposes.

While the restriction is unusual, Henahan and other local arts organizations remain, in true artist style, inspired, continuing the push to provide quality art for its community.
“We are, of course, exploring all options for managing these challenges over this biennium in a way that will continue to support the arts and cultural infrastructure in Ohio, not in only in grant making, but also in other programs and services the OAC has traditionally provided to the field,” she said.

This form of advocacy is not lost on Martine Collier, president and CEO of Culture Works [], who said the organization worked with the OAC and other statewide arts organization to thwart the budget cuts initially proposed by Kasich. Collier said this past May, Culture Works attended Arts Day in Columbus, along with other arts advocates from the Dayton region and met with elected officials one-on-one to encourage their support. That effort was eventually met with the departure of the Governor Kasich’s originally proposed 19.5 percent budget cut.

“Advocacy efforts like this are critically important to sustaining arts and culture in our regiwon, and retaining funding on the national, state, and local level,” Collier said.
But, like the OAC, Collier emphasizes the drive for arts funding is a constant one: “Notwithstanding a victory like this, the funding climate remains very challenging for local arts organizations, regardless of budget size,” she said.

Henahan said the new budget means the OAC will continue and even increase its ability to offer operating support to all sizes and types of arts organizations, helping Dayton arts organizations to survive and thrive.

And, perhaps, one of the grandest “funders” to the Dayton arts community are its members, the people who, no matter the budget or fiscal situation at hand, see hope within the confines of a difficult situation.

“[Dayton’s] diverse mix of large and small organizations, as well as individual artists, makes for a lively arts and cultural scene,” said Peter Benkendorf, founder and president of Involvement Advocacy, where he says they work to foster a culture of imagination in the Dayton region. “There is no shortage of things to do [in Dayton].”
Veal mirrors Benkendorf’s thoughts, adding, “I believe the tide is turning for the arts scene in Dayton.”

As for Collier, that wave Veal speaks of is the flow that will help keep the Dayton economy floating:

“Everyone who lives here should take great pride in the cultural vitality of this community,” she said. “These cultural assets attract are a very real economic engine for the community, bringing in tourists, filling hotel beds, keeping restaurants in business, and attracting new industries and job development.”

And that’s certainly a current on which we all can dance.

Reach DCP freelance writer Caroline Shannon-Karasik at

About Caroline Shannon-Karasik

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