Monday, May 10, 2004

Local arts support leads nation


If anyone needed more proof that Cincinnati reigns as one of the nation's top cities for the arts, that proof came last week with the announcement of the results from the Fine Arts Fund's 2004 pledge campaign.

The FAF raised $10.4 million this year, registering a 4 percent increase over 2003. That makes it the fastest-growing united arts campaign in the nation, and among the largest in dollar amounts.

While large corporate donations, such as Procter & Gamble's $820,000, play a considerable part, the breadth of the arts fund's appeal can be seen in the fact that thousands of area workers contributed to the FAF in 430 firms' employee campaigns. In fact, P&G employees gave $878,000, topping the corporate donation.

FAF helps fund 17 major area arts organizations, and has an Arts Services office that supports smaller groups.

The FAF campaign results come as heartening news, particularly given some arts groups' recent financial troubles.

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, arguably the local group with the highest national profile, has been struggling to reduce its budget deficit, pegged at $1.4 million for the fiscal year that ends Aug. 31.

The CSO's situation was eased last week when an anonymous donor pledged to contribute $1.8 million to the CSO, covering the orchestra's budget deficit from the last two years.

Still, some belt-tightening lies ahead for the CSO, along with hikes in ticket prices. Last year, the orchestra received the biggest FAF allocation, nearly $3 million. It and other groups can rely on a solid - and increasing - base of support from the FAF.

Actually, the overall picture for the arts in Cincinnati looks brighter than ever.

Last year brought the nationally celebrated opening of the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art downtown and the Cincinnati Wing of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

This week, the Taft Museum downtown re-opens after a $22.8 million, 21/2-year renovation and expansion, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opens in August.

Both should bring further national, even international attention to the Queen City.

"There is a buzz," FAF president Mary McCullough-Hudson told the Enquirer.

"It's all about product. Amazingly, we're in sort of a growth industry."

Perhaps it's not that amazing. Cincinnati has a heritage of nurturing arts activity of a quality and quantity far out of proportion to the city's size.

It led the nation decades ago in creating a united funding mechanism for the arts, and as the 2004 results from the Fine Arts Fund demonstrate, it's still leading the way. That's something we all can take pride in and benefit from.

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Local arts support leads nation
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