Save Public Funding for the Arts

An open question from Councilor Jackie Nytes
August 7, 2008, 1:06 pm
Filed under: Public arts funding

Councilor Nytes took the time last night to review your comments and sent the following e-mail.  She poses a couple of great questions. What are your thoughts? (And if you still want to lend your support, scroll to the “VOTE HERE” post)

I took a look and was pleased to see comments from lots of people I do not know so at least it is not just the same few of us over and over speaking out for this.….  I share your opinion about this Important investment! I have a tough question however 

The reality is that there will be reductions in revenue due to the changes in the property taxes that the legislature passed.  Tell me where you think we should get the money for the arts.  For example, would you be willing to reduce spending on public safety to keep the arts funding?  Would you be willing to reduce the raises that we give the police and fire fighters in order to keep the arts funding?  I am very serious in asking this because those things are going to go up in this budget while the spending for the arts and the Parks goes down.

One of your commentators suggested reducing the salaries of the Councillors…for the record we make about $13,000 so maybe you already get what you pay for with us!  Not much to pick up by cutting our salaries… 

I will look again tomorrow and see what else posts.  If you think people would respond, raise my questions with them because we have to make some choices. 

Jackie Nytes

City County Councillor, District 9



42 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I do not see investment in parks/art and public safety as mutually exclusive. Well-developed art and green scenes are measures that need to be taken to improve public safety.

Comment by Ryan Noel

I understand that a limited budget means budget cuts everywhere. If some things – like the arts budget, or greenways/parks – have to be cut, would it be possible to have someone on the city’s payroll that helps agencies get alternate funding? Like someone (a city employee) to help write grants, link organizations that are interested in getting funding with companies/foundations that have funding or are interested in advertising?

I’m quite aware that I don’t know the whole story with the budget, or with how the various organizations get their funding, so many of them (especially the larger ones) may already have someone that does what I’m suggesting. I’m thinking more of the smaller, more local groups that need some more support.

Comment by Laura

Alleging that maintaining funding for the arts requires making cuts in critical services such as public safety or police salaries is a closed-minded, sensationalist tactic that unnecessarily incites alarm and concern among citizens and the councilor should be ashamed for even bringing the topic to the table.

Maintaining funding for the arts in no way requires cutting critical services. The city is not losing income from all sources, merely one which has looted beyond comprehension. Now is the time for the city to look to more equitable funding sources, as well as examining where spending fails to generate a sufficient return.

One place the councilor might look is at the millions of dollars lavished on professional sports teams. While the revenue, both direct and ancillary, is considerable when taken as a raw number, the city would do well to question whether the return sufficiently matches the level of investment once all expenses are deducted. Perhaps the city needs to look toward alternative investment vehicles that provide a higher percentage of return with less expense.

The councilor’s question is cloaked in shameful politics that are inherently deceptive and fail to adequately address the needs of the city. The demise of property taxes as the city’s cash cow was not unforseen. Alternative funding sources for all city programs should have been addressed long before now. Suggesting that maintaining funding for the arts requires cuts in critical services is insulting to the people of Indianapolis.

Comment by charles i. letbetter

We need a micromanager fiscal analyst to find places to cut, because we can’t just say “cut public safety” or “cut arts funding.” What somone needs to look at are the details. I wonder how much money it costs the city for a cop to sit for several hours in his running vehicle with the air-conditioning on watching a road block set up for a special event. I suspect that no one combs through the budget at this level of detail. What’s the old saying? A million bucks here and a million bucks there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. It’s going to take someone with a keen eye and a sharp pencil to make such cuts.

Comment by liz

To tie the arts/parks to public safety is just a political tactic. Everyone knows that, including you, Jackie. You should be ashamed of yourself as a public servant to frame this issue this way. To sarcastically ask the public who isn’t privy to all the “line items and inner workings of the city budget” to choose between “safety and the arts/parks,” is despicable. This is the same old “tax/fear” approach. This has nothing to do with governing, community or quality of life. It is a tactic used to help the mayor get re-elected.

That being said, here are two suggestions:

1. Why not have the public vote on this issue? That might be kind of like democracy. The public should be allowed to vote on issues that affect them directly like this, or the building of a sports stadium. List everything in the city budget such as the mayor’s salary etc. and have everyone prioritize them. It’s possible that the arts/parks AND policemen’s salaries would both be near the top and that corporate/sports giveaways would be near the bottom.

2. If you don’t want to give we citizens the freedom to vote on our own future and community, then I’d suggest this as a second idea. If the city gives huge tax incentives to corporations and builds stadiums for wealthy sports teams, or charges a store like Nordstrom no rent and completely stocks it’s store for free, then it would seem to indicate that there is plenty of money that could be used for the park/arts. It seems like cutting some of that corporate/sports team welfare could be used to support the parks/arts. My uneducated guess is that we would only have to reduce these corporate incentives by a tiny amount to pay for the parks/arts.

If Indianapolis cannot support it’s parks which have existed for years, then our city government is a failure and it’s time to change mayors.

I do not believe everything should be a “profit-making” venture, either. Whether it’s the bike trails, free concerts at the city market, the libraries or the public swimming pools, these are services and places that are good for the general health and well-being of our community. No, they do not “make money,” but their value is not measured in dollars. And for those of us who cannot afford Pacers/Colts tickets, or do not have an interest in them, the parks and arts provide us an inexpensive alternative for entertainment and recreation.

Comment by Bill Price

Forgive me for being naive, but as I recollect we have all been paying an extra tax to build the Colts Stadium. The stadium has been built. Why can’t this tax that we are already paying for a stadium that has already been built be converted to a tax to fund the arts?

I personally am not particularly interested in sports….which is a good thing since as an Internationally Unknown Artist, I couldn’t afford to go to a game if I wanted to. That doesn’t mean that I am not proud of our sports teams and of the fact that we are considered the racing capital of the world. In my view, we need to be more well rounded and offer somthing for everyone, not just the jocks.

Well here I go rambling. Sorry. The bottom line is that just as sports bring money into our city, given the opportunity to grow, the arts can and will bring in money as well. Does anyone out there realize how much money leaves this city/state when art lovers drive to Chicago or fly to New York or San Francisco in order to enjoy the theatre or to purchase art?

Carmen Hurt

Comment by Carmen Hurt

I vote NO to increasing salaries for law enforcement. We shouldn’t give rewards for a job poorly done.

Taxes were raised to build the Hoosier Dome. Taxes were raised to build Lucas Oil Stadium. Weren’t taxes raised to build Conseco as well? The IMCPL had to fight to get funding for their much needed expansion, but almost no one bats an eye when it comes to spending money on sports. Why does this city seem to think that spending huge money on sports will bring in huge money, but spending money on the arts is money down the toilet? The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is widely considered among the top 5 orchestras in the world. Perhaps if Indy saw itself as a cultural center instead of just a sports center, it would be a more desirable place to live. This would lead to higher property values and thus higher tax revenues.

Comment by Christopher Parker

The arts have been proven to be a very fiscally sound investment. I encourage our legislators to read the following document on the return on investment reaped by communities with an active arts scene:

Comment by Heather May

I received a link to this site by email, in which the sender estimated the arts funding budget at approx $1.5M, or 1%, of the city-county’s overall budget. Ms. Nytes suggests that we have to choose between public safety and arts funding, making it sound as if those two are the only items that make up the entire budget of nearly $100M. Now, we haven’t seen too spending on infrastructure — our flooded streets and basements attest to that. Education budgets have been slashed, so we’ve been told. So, where in the deep black hole of “higher” finance, goes an estimated $90M+of taxpayer dollars? It appears that there’s a whole lotta somethin’ between arts funding of 1% and necessary police and fire protection at the other end. Perhaps Marion County taxpayers should be allowed to examine the small print that lies between these two budget items and vote on redistributing that money.

Comment by Carrie Savage-Zimmerman

Do not cut the art program

Comment by rena elsner

Keep arts programming

Comment by Deb Weinmann

Keep arts programming.

Comment by Jim Weinmann

Please provide funds for the arts. They need all the financial help that is possible.

Comment by Gerald Steinfeld

The arts provide great learning opportunities for our students.

Comment by Rita Hummel

Please support the arts. It is great for our community.

Comment by Bill Hummel

I’d like to cut some money this way: stop sending out city employees to drive around in city cars to paste the orange “Illegal Sign” stickers over existing illegally posted signs.

One illegal sign is ugly, but the second taxpayer-funded one on top just defies all sense.

Defining the problem as arts vs. safety is ridiculous and fear-mongering. There is so much waste in the system, as liz said above: who is willing to do the hard work to examine the details of waste and cut all of them before making a psychologically crippling gesture like cutting arts?

Comment by Donna Sink

Please support the arts for our community. It is so important for a well rounded person.

Comment by Sherry Minnicks

Arts gives kids a positive activity and helps them be a well rounded person

Comment by ileen maxwell

arts are good

Comment by bill maxwell

I’m actually quite infuriated by Ms. Nytes’ sensationalistic and disingenuous response. To frame this decision as art vs. safety is patently absurd.

With this property tax debacle and the ridiculous shifts in city government policy, Marion County is going to end up as a giant meth lab with a fancy library and fancy stadium amid the rubble.

For our legislators to whine about the “brain drain” while at the same time whittle away all of the tangible everyday benefits that make our city an attractive place to live proves only that they take their residents for granted.

Our city is better than this. Its citizens deserve better.

And frankly, Ms. Nytes, I think you’ve done us all a huge disservice. Enjoy your shantytown.

Comment by Rob

I am 34, college educated & a business professional, and I moved to Indianapolis 6 mos ago to go back to school, for art, at Herron/IUPUI. I chose Indy in large part due to the grassroots arts community here and the relatively abundant opportunities to participate & grow in the arts.

I also left a job in city government in another large Indiana town to come here, and I understand that some of the budget choices Councilor Nytes speaks of seem very real – just like a household budget, any cuts seem to jeapordize the standard of living we have come to expect & deem necessary.

That said, well-maintained green spaces and public support of the arts are vital components of any public safety or economic policy. Civic pride is just as critical to reducing crime as a well-equipped and compensated police force, and a city, especially its next generation, is built on its artists & music teachers as surely as on its business people and public safety officers.

In addition, companies build where they can recruit desirable employees, and if you want the technology & research sector & the revenue it brings, their young, educated employees are looking for quality of life – walkable, bikeable, green, communities & indy music, theater, public art, local & innovative cuisine. Don’t take my word for it, ask Denver, CO.

So what if in return for the tax breaks a company/sports franchise gets for doing business here, the city requests an investment pledge that goes specifically toward funding arts/parks – a win/win partnership that goes on the public record, that a company that does business in Indianapolis invests tangibly in her future in the non-traditional ways that everyone gives lip-service to but finds easiest to designate as non-essential in a pinch. I know a few businesspeople, and the idea would need to be sold, and sold by officials who believe that such funding is necessary, even critical to the future of Indy, but I think it’s possible.

In addition, if it is acceptable and palatable to tax to build sports arenas for the sake of economic expansion, and I think that it is within reason, it is justified to tax to support arts education, awareness, and development, and the building & maintenance of public green spaces – and I say this as a not-independently wealthy student who will have only her art to pay back her student loans. In a city of approx. 1 million people, a tax base of maybe 300,000 households (? – Councilor Nytes can more accurately represent that figure) the $1.5 million in question is $5 per household per year – sign me up. This is worth more than my occasional Starbucks or movie, more than a gallon of milk, a gallon of gas or the 45 min bike trip to save gas.

And please, let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt, assume no one wants to slash anyone’s funding just for the fun or personal gain of it, and dialogue on these really important issues without the accusing, villian-making rhetoric.

Comment by Jennifer

If it was a priority it would happen. Period. Any budget is malleable. How about reform? A heavy third party audit?

Cut down on the corporate welfare and the coddling of sports enterprises and there will be a plethora of funds. Not only for the arts, but education, sustainable infrastructure, and some mass transit to be proud of.

This sends a clear message. Those who need the arts and the things listed above will simply relocate.

Comment by Josh Johnson

I agree with all of these comments. There are likely many ways to cut small pieces of the budget which would sum up to the small amount that the city spends on arts. If Indy truly aspires to be a city that can compete with some of the other metropolitan areas in the Midwest it absolutely must invest in the arts. Take another look at the budget line items, or ask each department to consider where it can cut 1 to 2% of its budget (most over ask anyways) or see if there are new programs that are being proposed that can be stalled. It is the job of the council to make tough decisions and think creatively. It can be done. You could even consider giving the budget to some public finance grad students at SPEA – I can guarantee that they can figure out how to cut spending without cutting the arts.

Comment by Monica

Improved quality of life reduces crime. PERIOD!

Comment by Joshua Brewster

The alternatives presented by Ms. Nyles are hysterical and insulting. To even suggest that cuts would have to come from public safety rather than the “fat” present in the bricks and mortar development in this city is shameful. By the comments above, no one has been fooled, Ms. Nyles. I would think reading a few of these comments and a bit of soul searching might allow your “public service” to take another direction.

Comment by Cathy Claycomb

Hey folks, the posts here are starting to take an ugly turn. Please keep in mind that Councilor Nytes has been a long-time supporter of arts funding and personally is a patron of the arts. She also openly asked for your suggestions. Let’s keep this thread civil and the suggestions and conversation constructive. For arts to be at the table, supporters of the arts must be willing to discuss solutions, not stoop to name calling. Thank you!

Comment by saveindyarts

Societies that encourage the arts tend, historically, to be healthy and productive societies, while cultures that repress art tend to stagnate and die. Art is necessary to remind people what beauty is.

Comment by Dave

As a college math instructor, I know the value of education and the sciences to our city and state. As an avid sports fan, I know the excitement and pride generated by being the amateur sports capital of the country, as well as that generated by our professional teams. (Hopefully, the Pacers will restore that soon.) As a human being who participates in and supports the Indianpolis arts culture with time and money, I know that the arts are just as important to the soul of our city as the other two pieces mentioned. They are all part of being a great city and each piece adds significantly to the lives of its citizens. Let’s keep the city great and not allow that third piece to be lost or reduced in importance. Please keep funding the arts!

Comment by Duane Leatherman

Obviously, no one responding on this blog believes that public safety should be underfunded and that our law enforcement officers should receive less compensation. But, when do we as a community, begin to become PROACTIVE in how we choose to spend money instead of REACTIVE? Engaging young people and the community at large in the arts is a very proactive way to lower public safety issues in the future. Maybe if there was a music or drama program that Johnny could attend as opposed to hanging out on his block learning about other kinds of “drama,” he wouldn’t be a threat to our community years down the line. We can’t say on one hand that we are interested in reducing crime, but on the other hand, not be willing to invest our money in the things that we KNOW work! No, it’s not easy, but there really is no black and white answer here. I believe it’s the job of the Council to navigate the gray and make a choice that serves the needs of our community in the short and long term.

Comment by Aleesia Johnson

I realize public safety funding is important, but what a terrible shame it would be to lose the momentum we have with the Indy arts scene. If it weren’t for the arts, Indianapolis would not have been featured prominently in the Wall Street Journal last week (Page W2, July 26-27).

In response to Jackie Nytes’ question, is it possible to not increase the public safety budget in order to not reduce the arts or parks budgets?

Comment by Jen Schmits Thomas

I am a music teacher in Indianapolis Public Schools. I see every day what quality music and art education does to motivate, encourage, engage, academically challenge, grow, and add to my student’s lives. Music is something that they can experience for free. They can sing and bang pots and pans to create melody and rhythm, they can take home scrap paper and pencils to draw. Some of them come from below low quality of life and the arts make their lives more enjoyable. They give them hope and a chance for expression.

From my understanding, downtown property owners were given tax breaks so that thy may be able to put that money towards improving their properties and increase the attractiveness of downtown. It obviously worked.

But that was put in place years ago, and these property owners are able to now give back. So, they should.


Comment by Carter

It’s good to hear you weigh in on this issue. I’m willing to volunteer 40 hours per month to the city to help solve this problem by developing and implementing solutions to fund the arts council’s work independent of taxpayers.

If 1000 people who signed the petition each gave $1500 in time, resources, or cash to the city arts, we would have the budget.

We need more officers on the streets because the arts has not managed to reduce crime as some on this blog purport that it does.

It is important to bring the arts to people who cannot afford it. And free art is everywhere.

I’ve never been to a gallery that charges admission.

Most events will give you a ticket if you volunteer.

And there is free public art everywhere.

Last I checked even the art museum has one day a week you can go for free and I’ve never been charged to walk the grounds.

I’m not buying this alarmism regarding the arts. Not one person so far has stepped up to volunteer to find solutions other than to support putting the taxpayer into deeper debt which is the same thing many of you despise about sports funding.

Comment by Melyssa

Fund the arts and end this ridiculous war against the creative class in Indiana. Building more and more stadiums while failing to provide education and public transportation is Indiana’s blue print for failure for well over a century. End the cycle and reinvest in our community on a genuine level.

Quite frankly an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure this short sighted thinking that just because funding of the arts for a couple years did not prevent crime is ridiculous. Crime stems from poverty which stems from ignorance and its not the victims of poverty solely to blame. Provide a decent public education system and opportunities to engage in more than just athletics or crime and crime will fall over time.

Continue to reward only those at the top as we have in Indiana for last 100 years and things will continue to be more of the same and worse and worse year after year. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again and expecting a different result. Its time we made our communities and our future generations a priority for once in this state’s abysmal history.

Comment by Stan Boshears

How to raise money: a seat tax on all stadiums funded with at least $1 of public money. Lucas Oil Stadium will have 63,000 seats. A $5 tax raises $315,000 per Colts game. 8 regular season games and 2 preseason games = $3,150,000. This does not include any other events such as NCAA games, motocross, Monster Truck events, etc. High school events could have a reduced tax – maybe a sliding scale based on the ticket price.

Comment by Andrew Ball

So, are you saying that public safety is the only place we can cut the budget? I find that hard to believe. The arts actually help teach creative problem solving. Maybe we should send the council members to some drawing and painting classes to help figure out the budget.

Comment by Margaret Olsen

Save Indy Arts! The blog name says it all.

Comment by Emilee Preble

Energy will go one way or the other, creative or destructive. Community arts are one of the greatest deterrents to crime a city can have. New York City is an excellent example and a model to follow.

Comment by Carol Tharp-Perrin

I can’t believe that a government official would even think about saying a comment like that and trying to manipulate us in to getting what you want. As a fifteen year old I am supposed to look up to people like you and to TRUST you that you are making informative decisions that are best for our community.Trying to put the idea that the arts is more important than paying our heroes like the firefighters is crazy!

If you really wanted to do what is best for out community you would think of ways that you could cut down on the budget which aren’t that vital to the citizens. I can tell you right now that the new stadium was not necessary and we could have lived without it. And while your at it you could do things that were better for the environment like using more efficient cars that don’t leave dents in the wallets of hard working parents.

I find it kind of ironic that our school is going through a similar thing. We just got a new football stadium and we had a really great season. But as the end of the school year rolled around and school officials started to realize that they no longer have enough money. So they had to cut some teachers and some performing art class. And some teachers even THREATENED us that if we didn’t fund raise more that our dance team could be cut!

This should never be a problem if you were more wise with your purchases. The fact that your trying to fit the blame on our shoulders when its all because of your irresponsibility is selfish. Arts is VERY important to kids my age and I know from experience is one of the few things that I can look forward too.

Comment by Geneva Moore

Lisa Sirkin and her company, Gracie Communications, started this web blog. Both Lisa and her company reside in Hamilton county.

Lisa Sirkin does not pay Marion county taxes, she pays Hamilton county taxes.

However, Lisa Sirkin does get paid by the big well funded arts institutions who are getting Marion county tax dollars. Most of them are clients of her communcations firm.

Lisa Sirkin has absolutely no say in what happens in Marion county government. If she wants to have a say in our city, she needs to pack up and move here and pay our tax bills.

You don’t Marion county folks at Hamilton county city council meetings or launching blogs trying to tell Hamilton county how to spend its tax revenue, do you?

Don’t fall for the hysteria she started.

I am the tax activist who led the 2007 property tax protests you saw on the news nearly every week last summer. I am also presenting property tax repeal solutions to the Indiana Senate in September with other activists who have VOLUNTEERED countless hours to our city and state without pay.

I am also an art collector and have produced art events including a huge arts ball in 2004 that drew international art entries, guests from both coasts, provided entertainment on three floors of a national historic landmark, and gave $1000 in prizes to two LOCAL artists. I did this without public funding or arts council PR. I know a whole lot about what I’m talking about.

I combed every detail of the arts council’s IRS financial statement and found some disturbing information that points to self dealing of our money by arts insiders…some of whom don’t live in Marion county.

Read HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAXATION to learn the truth about how who gets your arts dollars and why they started the hysteria and want you to believe the lie that there will be no art in Indy with Marion county tax dollars.

Comment by Melyssa

Government has no business funding Arts at all. There is adequate philanthropic private funding to support legitimate Arts initiatives.

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