Cincinnati liberals still stinging from Sen. John Kerry's Nov. 2 defeat have a new reason to be blue. City of Cincinnati leaders are projecting a $10 million to $12 million budget shortfall for 2005, and city council's recommended biennial budget includes a 50 percent reduction in arts funding.
The $432,170 in grant money awarded last year to individual artists and local arts organizations, large and small, will be shaved to approximately $224,500 or eliminated from the 2005 budget completely.
Andy Marko, local media artist who chairs the Cincinnati Arts Allocation Commission, the group that reviews proposals and recommends arts grants, puts it like this: Once the funding is reduced or eliminated, don't expect it to come back.
Marko has what he hopes is a politically savvy plan. He has publicly thanked council for past and current support of the arts. He points out the economic benefits of cultural tourism and talks about how city arts funding makes Cincinnati distinctly better than some of its Midwestern neighbors.
Council members like to be thanked. They like to hear that Cincinnati is special, a city worth celebrating.
Marko sees buttering up council as his best shot to protect city arts funding, but he understands the obstacles ahead for him and whoever stands with him at upcoming public hearings. A political hardliner will tell you that the choice is between keeping a neighborhood fire station open, supporting a battered women's shelter or funding individual artists and local arts organizations
Hard times force people to see the arts as a luxury, something a few notches below street cleaning and recycling programs in community importance.
The goal for Marko, a soft-spoken professor at Miami University and self-professed amateur lobbyist, is to persuade City Hall powers-that-be that arts funding is not an either/or proposition. He understands that if city council members have to choose between closing fire stations and giving money to a local dance company, the fire station will win every time -- as it should.
Marko's pitch, one that's yet to be forcefully made, is that culture is part of the air we breathe, a community good much like a city park or playground. Its elimination, he argues, will harm our citizens.
The choice between city support for the battered women's shelter at YWCA or Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati is taken off the table by this argument. Both are essential to city's life. The new goal, one every bit as challenging, is to find a way to support both.
The funding source for the arts allocation, established in 1983 by city policy, is a sliver of the General Fund budget (set at 0.14 percent in 1989). Marko is urging that the percentage to remain the same. When the city budget decreases -- as it will for 2005 and the near future -- the arts community will make sacrifices like other human services. When the budget increases -- and every card-carrying Republican will tell you that economic prosperity is on the way -- then the arts funding will rebound with the rest of the community.
Until that decision is made, Marko is asking arts supporters to attend the public budget hearings dressed in green -- meaning we need your money -- for the remaining public hearings, especially Monday at 1 p.m. at City Hall.
A laundry list of possible supporters includes members from groups who benefit from public funding: Art Force, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, Greater Cincinnati Blues Society, Know Theatre Tribe, Women Writing for (a) Change Foundation and Women's Theater Initiative, among many others.
Everyone likes clean streets. But who will speak on behalf of the arts groups and explain that they're just as significant?
Just when you thought Election Day battles were over, there's a new fight for the public good. Let's win this one.