Council to dish out funds for the arts

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Columbus will be contributing to the financial stability of the community’s 16 largest cultural organizations while a long-term plan is drafted, and City Council wants to make sure it has a voice in where the money goes.

“These are dollars that would go to the arts anyway,” Councilman Kevin Boyce explained April 7 before members voted to allocate $700,000 from the city’s hotel/motel tax to the Columbus Cultural Leadership Consortium.

The city earmarks a percentage of that tax for supports of the arts, including $4 million for a broad spectrum of organizations, Boyce added.

The new expenditure will aid in the goal of raising $2.8 million this year for the consortium’s members, according to Press Southworth III, the executive director of Opera Columbus and president of the consortium formed in 2006.

Franklin County is also contributing $700,000, and the remainder will come from corporate donations, Southworth said.

The consortium is made up of cultural organizations with yearly budgets of over $500,000, including COSI, Franklin Park Conservatory, the Columbus Museum of Art and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, CATCO, the King Arts Complex and the Wexner Center for the Arts.

The “Thrive in Five” plan will stabilize these institutions while a strategic plan to strengthen the creative community in Columbus is formulated over the next three years.

These creative endeavors contribute $300 million a year to the local economy, Boyce pointed out.

The consortium member organizations, with budgets totalling $77 million a year, are responsible for half of that amount, playing to 2.6 million audience members annually.

The goals of the strategic plan are to promote that aspect of the economy, to enhance learning opportunities through the arts, and to create a public-private funding partnership.

The Greater Columbus Arts Council will be acting as fiscal agent for the consortium at no cost, Southworth said.

The voting members of committee overseeing the allocation of funding will be two representatives from the city of Columbus, two from Franklin County, four appointed by corporate donors, and one chairman elected by these eight members.

The consortium will also appoint two non-voting members to the oversight committee.

City Council President Michael Mentel has recommended that Boyce and Mike Reese, Mayor Michael Coleman’s chief of staff, be appointed as the city’s oversight committee members, Southworth said.

Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson wanted to make sure that city appointments to the committee go through the same approval process as other nominations, and added an amendment to the spending ordinance spelling out this requirement.

In addition to the participation of the city representatives, the consortium would have to report to council every year to have its funding renewed, Southworth said.

Councilman Andrew Ginther suggested that quarterly reports be issued to keep members up-to-date.

Resident Jason Beehler, who said he had worked with the Greater Columbus Arts Council, asked that the legislation be tabled because it favored the largest organizations to the exclusion of smaller venues, such as Actors’ Theatre and the Leo Yassenoff Jewish Community Center.

“This is like offering tax incentives to the largest corporations, and leaving small businesses to fend for themselves,” Beehler said. “This will reverse 35 years of sound public policy.”

Southworth responded that the consortium members often cooperate with the smaller organizations on projects. And Boyce pointed out that the city will continue to support these other entities with its bed tax funds.

Councilwoman Maryellen O’Shaughnessy agreed that the cultural institutions need to have a clearer picture of the future, rather that just worrying about keeping the doors open day to day.

“It’s time to spend less time putting one foot in front of the other and take a big leap into strategic planning,” O’Shaughnessy said.

In other business, council heard a request from Franklin County Municipal Clerk of Courts Lori Tyack for $65,000 for software to expand the electronic traffic ticket program.

The E-ticket technology allows a police officer to process a citation in less than 60 seconds, getting the officer back on the street faster, Tyack explained.

The information immediately goes to the clerk’s office, which allows it to be filed in a more timely manner with the county and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

The program was launched in early 2007 with a state grant that put the E-ticket hardware in four cruisers that have since issued 300 cyber citations.

The $65,000 from the Justice Assistance Grant will buy software for 109 additional vehicles. The request for the expenditure for the hardware will come later.

The ordinance was tabled for one week after O’Shaughnessy had to leave the meeting. Council President Mentel is with Mayor Coleman on a trade mission to Israel, leaving council without a quorum to pass legislation on an emergency basis.

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