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Portsmouth City School District students stand in a flower bed in the Human Rights Garden, a plant and sculpture garden created by Portsmouth students and teaching artists as part of an Ohio Arts Council TeachArtsOhio grant

Imagine the Future

Springtime is a season of renewal, growth, and hope. As flower gardeners plant their seedlings and serious vegetable gardeners sift through seed catalogs, arts organization leaders are planting, too. This is the time of year many arts leaders engage in strategic planning, and based on the many requests I receive to speak with planning consultants, I realize many of you have begun this in earnest!

During one (anonymous) recent call, I asked a consultant if the organization’s board and staff had been asked to imagine their future: What is it they want to see in the next year or two—or 10? How was the organization thinking about their future impact and success? The response was, unfortunately, “Well, I don’t think they’ve been asked these things—oh, and remember, I’m interviewing you!” And there it was … in an instant, I thought, where is the imagination, the innovation, the disruptive forward-thinking thoughts and dreams about what is possible?

Quite frankly, we must continuously ask ourselves to imagine the future. The needs for the arts sector are more significant than ever before. As we move through the next few years, I think of it as building our bench—reimagined business models, new modes of product delivery, shrinking digital divides and deserts, and workforce training to keep artists and arts professionals career-ready—no matter what the next normal turns out to be.

At the Ohio Arts Council we continue to focus on assessing and improving our processes to achieve new efficiencies. I am proud to say that it has never been easier to apply for OAC funding. This is very evident through dramatic increases in grant applications. Before the pandemic, applications jumped anywhere from 50 percent to 75 percent in our project-based grant programs and 50 percent in our main arts education grant program. Despite COVID-19, this high volume of applications has remained steady. We believe applications are at a high level despite the pandemic for several reasons:

  • We remain a national leader in online arts grantmaking thanks to our cutting-edge application platform, which several other states have modeled.
  • We have reduced red tape by cutting the length of our grant Guidelines by two-thirds.
  • We have made our Guidelines effective on a biennial basis, rather than annual, making procedures more predictable and consistent for our applicants.
  • Our project-based funding remains nimble and aligned to intended strategic outcomes.
  • And, we have improved outreach, prioritizing meeting constituents and applicants (virtually)—to hear their stories and encourage them to explore public funding.

In the upcoming biennium, we will continue to make bold, smart investments in the arts while maintaining our reputation as a prudent steward of public resources.

Speaking of the next biennium, in Governor Mike DeWine’s version of the state’s FY 2022-2023 operating budget (covering July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2023), state funding for the arts through the Ohio Arts Council was set at $32.9 millionwhich basically held the FY 2021 appropriation level making it nearly a flat budget recommendation. Last week on April 21, the Ohio House of Representatives adopted their version of the budget, which added an additional $1 million for grant awards in each year of the biennium, bringing the House version of the budget to $34.9 million.

The budget is now in the hands of the Senate. April 21 was a busy day, as both the House budget passed and I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee. I appreciated the thoughtful and attentive consideration of Chairman Terry Johnson (R, McDermott), Vice Chairman Jerry Cirino (R, Kirtland), Ranking Member Sandra Williams (D, Cleveland) and other committee members: Sen. Rob McColley (R, Napoleon), Sen. Bill Reineke (R, Tiffin), Sen. Michael Rulli (R, Salem), and Sen. Nickie Antonio (D, Lakewood).

After the budget passes the Senate, it will then go to Conference Committee, where the Governor’s Office irons out final details with House and Senate leaders. From there, it’s back to the House and Senate for final approval before landing on the Governor’s desk for review, vetoes (if any), and signature. I am always grateful for the opportunities we have during this process to share the successes of our artists and arts organizations.

Ohio's artistic community and its constituent organizations and leaders (that means you!) are some of our state’s greatest selling points. Your resilience and continued cultural contributions—especially in the case of smaller organizations and emerging artists—are dependent on how the State of Ohio and its citizens respond to and recover from COVID-19. Even as Ohioans suffer everything from job and economic loss, to the grief of losing a loved one, to amplified issues of addiction and anxiety, to the simple burden of doing our best to stop the spread of COVID-19—the arts can and do heal us, and the time to strengthen them is now.

The OAC board and staff stand ready and able to fulfill our mission. We stand with all of you as we work together to help Ohio recover and heal from the pandemic. Our statewide reach positively impacts, sustains, and provides a means to build Ohio culturally, educationally, and economically toward a secure and prosperous tomorrow. Let’s imagine the future together!

Until next time,

Donna S. Collins signature

Donna S. Collins
Executive Director

Featured photo: Portsmouth City School District students stand in a flower bed in the Human Rights Garden, a plant and sculpture garden created by Portsmouth students and teaching artists as part of an Ohio Arts Council TeachArtsOhio grant. (Photo courtesy of April Deacon, professional art educator at Portsmouth High School, a TeachArtsOhio grant recipient)

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