Ohio's Leading Arts Advocate

There are good and bad arts volunteers. The article "Giuliani Lists Choice for Decency Panel" in the March 31 issue of The New York Times reminded me of this sobering reality. New York City Mayor Ru

There are good and bad arts volunteers. The article "Giuliani Lists Choice for Decency Panel" in the March 31 issue of The New York Times reminded me of this sobering reality. New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani appears to be busy assembling a decency panel to review art in New York City's publicly financed museums. Supposedly, this "decency" panel will prevent "offensive" exhibitions like Brooklyn Museum of Art's 1999 Sensations show, which in one piece depicted the Virgin Mary splattered with cow dung.

I'm sure Uncle Carl Lindner and Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen are following Giuliani's actions closely. It's only a matter of time before Allen puts together his own panel of decency experts. Like Giuliani, Allen also considers himself an expert on "disgusting art."

Giuliani's decency panel is the type of insanity that artists and arts organizations face every day when it comes to the matter of public funding for the arts. Luckily, there are plenty of arts volunteers who truly want to do good.

One such group is Ohio Citizens for the Arts (OCA).

In a landscape of private foundations, arts institutions and small non-profit arts groups, OCA unites its 150 organizational members and 750 individual member into a united front for increased funding for the Ohio Arts Council. The challenge is for all pro-arts individuals to embrace the OCA message as their own.

In a world of Giulianis, Lindners and Allens, the message of arts advocacy needs to be loud and clear.

"We have advocated an increase in funding for the Ohio Arts Council," says Susan Franano, OCA executive director. "I think the emphasis the Ohio Arts Council places on the importance of arts education is part of the solution to the education struggles the state is facing."

The arts council received $32.7 million in the previous two-year budget. The request is to boost arts funding to $40 million. The additional moneys will increase support for arts education programs and expand international collaborations and will allow the arts council to broaden its reach into Ohio's 29 Appalachian counties. After-school arts programs for at-risk youth, support materials for educators and efforts to diversify arts audiences will also be enhanced.

Basically, taxpayers receive plenty of bang for their bucks.

"We are sympathetic to the challenges facing the legislators at this point," Franano says. "We are respectful of their position. But when you look at the $40 million, it remains at less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the total state budget. We think for a very small investment the state receives a big return."

A series of regional OCA meetings are underway. On April 9, Franano and her team brings their pro-arts message to the Contemporary Arts Center. It promises to be a rare opportunity for state legislatures and arts supporters to network with each other. In the battle over public funding for the arts, communication remains the best weapon.

"Legislators best understand an issue when it's explained to them by their constituents," Franano says.

The Cincinnati meeting might also turn into an impromptu news conference. Franano leaves OCA in late April to head the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. The plans are for her replacement to be announced at the Cincinnati event.

Franano is clear that leaving OCA wasn't an easy decision. After three years as its executive director, she has embraced OCA and its message. She also has newfound respect for Ohio's arts support.

The challenge is to take Franano's message to those legislators who remain unconvinced.

"We are tied to the principle that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence," Franano says. "But I've been in Ohio six years, after being involved in the orchestral community in Kansas City. I knew of the Ohio Arts Council long before I knew I was coming to Ohio. It's not the best arts council, but it's one of the top two or three in the country."