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The State Of The Individual Artist 

The Cigarette Tax Finally Reaches The Poets And Painters

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Look ahead to the coming arts season, as Scene writers have done on the following pages, and you'll find one organization after another that got a boost in the last year from the cigarette tax.

The biggest pool of funds was distributed, as planned, in the form of operating support for organizations. Seventy-two of them applied. Sixty-eight got a piece of the $15 million awarded last November, the lion's share going to the biggest and busiest organizations, which have the most employees: Cleveland Museum of Art, Playhouse Square, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Play House and a few others. But tiny organizations like the West Side music school Joyful Noise also received funding, as did neighborhood arts centers, like Heights Arts and the Beck Center, all over the region.

Next came the project support program - a much smaller slice of the pie at just $1 million but nonetheless providing support for arts programming at organizations whose core mission is something else. For example, ParkWorks was awarded $26,100 for its ParkArts program, which hires artists to bring their work to parks in Cleveland neighborhoods; and Positively Cleveland got $10,000 for its Connect Card program, a multi-venue admission card that's supposed to roll out in time for the performances previewed on the following pages.

Now the artists themselves are about to get their turn. According to Cuyahoga Arts and Culture Executive Director Cathy Boyle, the CAC board will consider and likely accept a proposal at their November meeting from the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture to run an individual artist support program. If the proposal is accepted, CAC would disburse funds to CPAC by the end of the year. CPAC would then begin to accept applications from individual artists and begin making grants in 2009.

CPAC will act as middleman because CAC is a taxing district, not a nonprofit (as foundations are), and can't by Ohio law distribute money directly to individual artists.

Boyle says she's hopeful that foundations - especially the Cleveland and the Gund - might eventually add to the $500,000 that CAC will grant to the project annually, thereby diversifying the revenue stream for individual artist support beyond the cigarette tax.

Boyle says that after considering individual-artist funding models gathered in a report by CPAC, the organization gravitated toward a fellowship program, which will be similar to what the Ohio Arts Council offers statewide. Boyle says thanks to input from artists, it's been decided to offer "substantial" support, which means fewer grants in larger amounts - the idea being to actually make a difference in the lives of the recipients. It's far from finalized, but Boyle says recipients are likely to get no less than $10,000 each once the grants start rolling out. Cuyahoga County voters approved the dedicated funding stream for arts support toward the end of former Governor Bob Taft's eight-year series of budget cuts at the other significant public funder of arts in Ohio, the Ohio Arts Council. OAC's budget is part of the State of Ohio's general budget, which means it can be cut as the governor and state legislature see fit. The agency's budget stabilized last year under Ted Strickland, even seeing an 11 percent increase, only to take a 10 percent hit earlier this year, as the governor asked all agencies to make cuts to help make up for a projected budget shortfall. After all that, the OAC's budget was left at $22,478,690, down from $24,976,322 for the 2008-2009 biennial, according to OAC spokesperson Jamie Goldstein.

What the Taft years meant to individual artists is that the program's budget was cut from $530,000 a year in 2001 to $300,000 this year. What the more recent trimming means is that OAC will have to reduce the amounts of unpaid grants, with most programs cutting their awards by 7.68 percent. This impacts what used to be called "operating support" and now is referred to as "sustainability" for most of the organizations whose activities are previewed on the following pages.

The state's individual artist program is very competitive, with just 51 of the 642 applicants getting funded last year. The individuals took a proportionally larger hit than organizations in the '08 budget cuts. Those who were to be paid $5,000 will get $4,000, a 20 percent reduction. Artists in Cuyahoga County should take note of those numbers. If Boyle's predictions hold true, CAC will give away grants larger than the state agency has and will award more money in Cuyahoga County than OAC does in the entire state.

A big part of Boyle's job in the next eight years will be to make sure the public arts funding stream endures. Even if CAC's dedicated revenue source can't be cut in favor of, say, highway projects, the tax is currently set to expire 10 years after it was approved, which means 2017. And regardless of what Cuyahoga County voters think, at least one downstate representative is hoping to put an end to supporting the arts with the cigarette tax. David Daniels, a Republican who represents three counties in Southwest Ohio (the sum of whose populations are just a little bigger than Parma's), introduced legislation that would prohibit the renewal of the cigarette tax once its first term expires. It quietly passed the House and reached the Senate before Boyle learned of it. An urgent mobilization of arts supporters in the Senate narrowly averted a permanent sunset to cigarette taxation for the arts.

Boyle sees her role - making sure the funding continues - as more important than ever. "This is likely to happen again," she says, "and we're likely to have to spend money on having ears in Columbus" to make sure Cuyahoga County arts advocates know when there's a threat.

For the moment, individual artists should keep their ears open for funding news, and the rest of us should tune in and enjoy the fruits of the season.

More by Michael Gill

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