Questioning Charlie, Anticipating Courtis

The first surprise was the fact that the May 10 letter arrived on my desk sometime in June. It's a delay even the Post Office would have trouble explaining. The second surprise was the squiggly sig

The first surprise was the fact that the May 10 letter arrived on my desk sometime in June. It's a delay even the Post Office would have trouble explaining.

The second surprise was the squiggly signature at the bottom of the letter: Charlie Luken, Mayor of the City of Cincinnati. You see, I've never received a letter from Luken before. But the shock that really knocked me out of my chair was the content of the letter itself.

"In light of last month's events, I believe what is needed to begin to heal this community are solutions that are proactive and inclusive. ArtWorks is one such solution.

"I am asking for your support for ArtWorks, an organization I believe can make a difference as we work within our community to rebuild bridges. You are probably aware that ArtWorks produced the Big Pig Gig, the event that decorated the streets of Covington, Newport and Cincinnati with 420 fiberglass pigs. But did you know that ArtWorks is an award-winning summer job training and employment program as well?"

The first surprise was the fact that the May 10 letter arrived on my desk sometime in June. It's a delay even the Post Office would have trouble explaining.

The second surprise was the squiggly signature at the bottom of the letter: Charlie Luken, Mayor of the City of Cincinnati. You see, I've never received a letter from Luken before. But the shock that really knocked me out of my chair was the content of the letter itself.

"In light of last month's events, I believe what is needed to begin to heal this community are solutions that are proactive and inclusive. ArtWorks is one such solution. ...

"I am asking for your support for ArtWorks, an organization I believe can make a difference as we work within our community to rebuild bridges. You are probably aware that ArtWorks produced the Big Pig Gig, the event that decorated the streets of Covington, Newport and Cincinnati with 420 fiberglass pigs. But did you know that ArtWorks is an award-winning summer job training and employment program as well?"

The hard-hitting irony behind Luken's letter requesting ArtWorks support is that the program currently receives no funding from city government. Make no mistake — ArtWorks Executive Director Tamara Harkavy asked Luken for financial help from the city. But he explained that the Cincinnati budget couldn't afford helping ArtWorks this summer.

Instead, ArtWorks received Luken's letter to use as a tool to request support from philanthropic individuals.

Long-time followers of ArtWorks will recognize Luken's letter as similar to one sent out by then-Mayor Roxanne Qualls. Of course, Qualls was one of ArtWorks' early advocates, responsible for securing city funds for its start-up.

By comparison, Luken's urgent request for ArtWorks funding looks hypocritical. The money is nowhere near where his mouth is.

Ever since Luken became the Grand Poobah of City Hall, I've never been entirely sure where he stood regarding the local arts community. He kept a low public profile during last fall's failed attempt to increase city funding for the Cincinnati Arts Allocation grants programs.

While the Regional Cultural Alliance (RCA), a regional arts office that would market our cultural assets to Tristate residents as well as to tourists, began to break apart in December 2000, Luken never stepped forward with any much-needed public support.

But my favorite Luken anecdote goes back to a rally for Cincinnati tourism held last summer on Fountain Square. Despite being surrounded by booths representing arts institutions like Playhouse in the Park and the Contemporary Arts Center, Luken promptly stepped to the microphone to praise the glories of Paramount's Kings Island and Cincinnati Zoo.

Not one arts institution was mentioned by Luken, which gives me the impression that our mayor isn't exactly convinced of the significant role the arts play in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson recently announced a $10 million commitment to create a Commission on Cultural Development that will stimulate more participation by residents and visitors in the arts.

Luken has yet to make the arts part of any political mandate. Then again, it's not clear Luken has a political mandate.

I've yet to hear an administrator from any of Cincinnati's leading arts organizations publicly criticize Luken. Of course, these are people who have nothing to gain by criticizing the man who would be our "strong mayor."

At the same time, I've yet to meet an individual artist or arts staffer who supports Luken. From the grass-roots perspective, his commitment to Cincinnati's arts community is transparent at best.

Between now and the November election, Luken has the opportunity to fill in numerous blanks. Let's hope that members of the arts community press him for some sort of commitment. At the same time, surprise mayoral candidate Courtis Fuller has the opportunity to take a leadership position by making city support of the cultural community a strong plank in his platform.

After receiving Luken's hypocritical letter, I'm giving Fuller my vote by default. The mystery that remains is whether Luken will do or say anything regarding the arts that could possibly win it back.

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