Arts supporters have followed the Regional Cultural Alliance (RCA) debate for the past few weeks. It's been an interesting ride.
Todd Portune, the first Democrat elected to the Hamilton County Commission since 1964, reneged on his long-time arts advocacy by speaking against county funding to finance the RCA, a regional arts office that would market our cultural assets to Tristate residents as well as to tourists.
Commissioner Tom Neyer Jr., a long-time RCA supporter, faced heavy criticism from the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). Earlier this summer, COAST filed a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission alleging that a conflict of interest arose when Neyer approved county negotiations toward giving the RCA $600,000 because Neyer was also the unpaid chairman for the transition team of the Regional Cultural Planning Committee.
A final RCA funding vote was delayed from a Nov. 29 county commission meeting. On Jan. 2, Portune begins his term as county commissioner. By that time, the RCA will already be dead.
It's been long overdue for local arts supporters to openly take the RCA debate to Portune and COAST. Instead, at a Dec. 11 meeting, the RCA Executive Board worked withdrawing its request for county funding.
The tentative plan is for the RCA to resubmit its request at a later time, after Portune and Commissioner John Dowlin, who opposed Neyer's plan from the beginning, have been better informed about the possibilities of a regional arts office.
"What we agreed to do was not announce anything until we meet again next Monday," says Gwen Finegan, Vice Chair of the RCA's Board of Trustees.
Personally, I don't buy the rhetoric that this is a temporary measure on the RCA's behalf. In my mind, the RCA is dead and buried. Selecting its director and establishing its office has been pushed aside. Basically, the group ceases to exist.
It's an astonishing development when you add up all the planning, meetings and monies that are being flushed down the drain.
When it comes to redeveloping its central core, Cincinnati is at a lull. Yet it's clear to many people that the arts are a viable, economic engine for breathing new life into downtown. It's astounding that local artists, arts administrators and arts supporters haven't been able to better sway local politicians about the worth of the RCA. Actually, let me rephrase that sentence. What's really astounding is that local artists, arts administrators and arts supporters haven't really tried to sway local politicians.
A group seeking $600,000 in county funding needs a political manager to mount a public relations campaign. At the very least, it needs an articulate public leader who can carry its pro-arts message throughout the community. Roxanne Qualls is no longer available, and nobody else has stepped up to replace her.
When something like the RCA self-destructs, I suppose there are plenty of people to finger for the blame. Neyer could have moved the process along faster. Portune could have spoken with RCA supporters before publicly withdrawing his support. Somebody, anybody could have responded to COAST.
The way I see things, the silent members of Cincinnati's politically neutral arts community allowed the RCA to die prematurely.
Anti-tax critics have proposed that the RCA seek out private funding. But Finegan says that isn't an option due to a pledge not to compete with the Fine Arts Fund. Instead, the RCA wants to pursue other plans for survival.
"The question is do we run with our tail between our legs?" Finegan says. "How we start the new organization says a lot about who and what the new organization is. We don't want to win on a technicality. We would like to have a clean start with full support."
I'm not about to call Neyer "Commissioner Fall Guy," even if the title fits. I'm too concerned about the political apathy that has Cincinnati's arts community in a stranglehold.
The need for a mover-and-shaker arts activist has never been greater. The death of the RCA is what happens when an executive board and an entire arts community chooses to remain politically neutral.