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Hoppe on the Arts: Go ahead, cut IAC

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Apparently, when it's time for budget cutting, the first thing lawmakers do is consult the alphabet. That's because they always start with the letter ‘A' — for Art.

I'm not sure what hurts arts funding more: the fact that no one who matters in Indiana (CEOs, labor leaders, sports personalities, CEOs) cares to stand up for the arts, thereby making it possible to cut the modest sums at stake with political impunity; or politicians' fear of having to answer challenges from opponents having to do with why, given our financial difficulties, arts "fluff" was left in the budget.

The latest case-in-point is Gov. Daniels' proposal to cut funding for the Indiana Arts Commission in half, or by $2 million.

Now $2 million isn't going to make a huge dent in the state's efforts to keep its budget in line. And arts advocates have rightly questioned why the arts are being asked to take such a deep cut compared with other state agencies.

But, as a proponent of public arts funding, I have to ask another question: Why not cut the whole thing?

Sad to say, but it would be difficult to name a more ineffectual state agency than the Indiana Arts Commission. Chronically underfunded, this office has become all but invisible in recent years. In part, this is the result of IAC's decision to portion out its central granting authority to a collection of regional offices. This seemed like a good idea at the time, a way of leveraging additional funds for underserved regions. Perhaps this has worked out to some extent.

But in Central Indiana, you have to go back to the days of Tom Schorgel, in the late 1980s, to find a time when the IAC was anything but a nonentity on the cultural scene. It would be instructive to poll the current director's name recognition among area artists. I had to look it up. Lewis Ricci is his name -- the IAC website helpfully points out that Mr. Ricci's last name is pronounced "Ricky."

As alluded to, the IAC's low profile has partly been due to the Commission's lack of support at the Statehouse. But lack of funds doesn't necessarily mean that a state office has to become irrelevant, especially when the stuff it works with is as potentially dynamic as culture.

The greater disappointment about the IAC has been its chief administrators' unwillingness or inability to use their statewide office as a bully pulpit for arts advocacy. It is hard to imagine a state that needs more in the way of remedial consciousness raising when it comes to the arts than Indiana. One can imagine a plethora of ways that a head of the IAC could work to better educate legislators, the mayors of cities and towns, local rotary clubs and chambers of commerce, not to mention citizens at large about what the arts can and do bring to communities.

You would also think that the state's official arts agency would, whether it had money or not, do a lot more in terms of helping to facilitate networking among Indiana artists, venues and alternative forms of funding.

You would think, in short, that the state's No. 1 arts agency would be a player.

But it is not — and hasn't been for a very long time.

P.S.

Comedy is journalism with laughs. That's what I've taken away from the PBS series on American comedy that's been playing at 9 p.m. on Wednesday nights on WFYI, Make ‘Em Laugh.

It's interesting to note how specific a lot of humor is to a particular place and time — and language. Humor doesn't translate across national boundaries very easily. There are exceptions, of course, but they are so few in number they tend to prove the rule.

Then there is slapstick.

Somebody's pants fall down. Doesn't matter where, when or who.

It's funny.

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