Blogging for the arts

Dateline: Mon 11 Aug 2008

Lisa Sirkin of Gracie Communications was so distressed about the proposal to eliminate arts from the Indianapolis city budget that she decided "to get outside of my comfort zone" and create a blog opposing the idea, "Save Indy Arts".

As of Sunday, she said, she had received 1,200 comments -- that's a lot of traffic.

"The blog is growing bigger than I expected," she said Sunday. "Many of the posters have passionate, thoughtful comments about how the arts have affected them personally or their experience with the arts programs that are funded through the city funding. Several have made suggestions about how to close the budget gap or find alternate funding options."

For numbers crunchers, the city budget is about $1.1 billion; the arts are allocated a miserly $1.5 million, about 0.1 percent of the overall spending. As Sirkin says on her blog, "City funding (for arts) is largely symbolic."

Historically, Indy has never spent much on the arts compared to other cities; it was only under Mayor Bart Peterson's administration that the Democrat gave arts their due. Now, Republican Mayor Greg Ballard and the City-County Council are struggling with huge debt. While the arts are set to take a hit, even more dire is the cut proposed for the city's parks: $2.3 million, or 13 percent, from its $17 mil budget, according to the Indianapolis Business Journal.

The IBJ, in an editorial, writes, "In the short run, we can't argue with such cuts if they mean more money for filling potholes and keeping pedestrian crossing signals in working order, functions of government that seem to be suffering now. And we don't disagree with making law enforcement a top priority. When lives are at stake, city government must revert to its most important role: keeping the public safe. "

However, the IBJ also notes -- as do readers of Lisa's blog -- that the arts do contribute to public safety; poor children are often the beneficiaries of programs supported by the Indianapolis Arts Council. Sometimes those "leisure activities" can steer kids away from gangs and street life, adds IBJ.

Also, the IBJ notes that other cities do a much better job of funding the arts. (Columbus, Ohio, spent $4 million last year funding arts programs).

We can't undo the past. Money spent on Lucas Oil Stadium and the library, for example, is exactly that: money gone. But if nothing else, this crunch in the city budget -- which is a crisis for the arts -- should encourage all of us to, again, look at our priorities.

We'll all be watching to see what the City-County Council does. In addition, please check out Lisa's blog and add your thoughts. And in the interest of fair play, she suggests readers look at Hoosiers for Fair Taxation and other like-minded blogs to get the other side of the story.

Also, read Brendan O'Shaughnessy's story in the Star today for the latest:


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