Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Hamilton Co. delves into the arts




By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County government is about to get into the arts business.

        Commissioners are poised to approve a $600,000 economic development grant to the Regional Cultural Alliance, a group that advocates and promotes the arts and cultural community throughout the Tristate.

        The grant marks a significant philosophical change by commissioners, as it is the first time county tax dollars will be used to boost the arts.

        RCA officials will come back asking for additional $600,000 grants in each of the next two years, and per haps beyond. In addition, the group is looking for $600,000, total, from the other seven Tristate counties this year.

        County Commissioner Tom Neyer, who is a board member of the Cincinnati Ballet Company and chair of its fund-raising effort, spearheaded the RCA deal.

        Mr. Neyer said that he will vote in favor of the grant and that his vote is not a conflict of interest because no dollars will go directly to the ballet or the Contemporary Arts Center, where he also is a board member.

        “Hopefully, those community assets and all artistic assets will benefit,” Mr. Neyer said. “But no direct funds will go to those institu tions.”

        Mr. Neyer said the grant could stick to the county's budget well beyond 2002.

        “The idea is to make this a permanent addition to our community,” he said. “But nobody has a lifetime guarantee. This institution, like every other, will have to prove its worth.”

        The money will come out of the county's general fund. County Administrator Dave Krings said he set aside $1 million in this year's budget for whatever unexpected programs came up during the year.

        RCA's grant is the first significant cash spent out of that money. Although the grant was first discussed in public Monday, the deal has been cooking for the better part of a year.

        “In doing the budget last year, the commissioners were discussing a lot of different projects,” Mr. Krings said. “That's why I just put aside a sum of money.”

        Mr. Neyer said the grant is considered economic development because the arts community draws tourism and business to the area.

        RCA will coordinate marketing for established programs, such as the ballet, and fledgling programs such as the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival.

        Among the other responsibilities the RCA will take on:

        • Help move artists, cultural workers and fledgling organizations from the idea stage, through a business plan. It will help them generate working capital.

        • Help these groups find temporary office space, equipment, legal advice. It will help them develop boards of directors and in fund raising.

        • Develop stronger staff and volunteer leadership within the arts and cultural community.

        • Develop an inventory, map and directory of facilities in the region.

        • Write policies for reviewing requests for funding projects that have regional impact.

        Commissioner John Dowlin said all of that sounds fine, but he wants to make sure taxpayers are getting the most for their $600,000 investment.

        Mr. Dowlin said he wants the county to have some way to measure what the RCA — as well as other nonprofits that are sure to come asking for money — is doing for taxpayers.

        “I want them to say, "Here's what we're going to do, and here's our measure of success,'” Mr. Dowlin said. “The question is: What is the measurable return for our investment?

        “They don't have that designed yet. Well, I want them to design it.”

       



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