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Investment and Engagement Lead the Way for the Arts in Ohio

Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Donna S. CollinsJust last week board members of the Ohio Arts Council met to review panel recommendations for state fiscal year 2021, which runs from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. The board was impressed by the high level of quality and the statewide presence of the arts, noting that now, more than ever before, public funding for the arts is essential.

It is not news to you that the Ohio Arts Council’s FY 2021 state funding is less than originally anticipated by about $3 million. This loss takes us back to the FY 2019 level of funding. This, of course, is due to an unexpected revenue shortfall of more than $2 billion, due to the coronavirus pandemic and economic loss of state revenues generated by sales and income taxes.

As was the case at the end of FY 2020, your Ohio Arts Council board and staff have worked hard to mitigate as much of the shortfall as possible for grantees and those you serve. We are offsetting the $3 million state budget reduction with our regular National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant award, and, as promised to you earlier this summer, the OAC’s share of federal CARES Act funding through the NEA adds another $517,200. These funds have been blended into our distribution of grant awards for FY 2021. Our partners at Arts Midwest are also supporting 11 arts organizations in Ohio with their CARES Act funding - bringing an additional $86,000 to the state. All of these federal funds help offset the FY 2021 state funds reduction by nearly $700,000.

Important to note, although allowed by the CARES Act, no federal dollars were used for administration of our agency – all of the funds went to you, wholly reinvested in our grantees.

At the end of the day, however, there were fewer grant dollars available in FY 2021 than we had hoped. There is no sugar coating this fact, and those of you who know me will know this: I want to be open about the reductions that we faced. Sustainability (i.e., operating support) grantees will notice grant reductions this cycle. Despite steady application levels, fewer grants will be made in our project-based, annual grant programs. Individual Excellence Awards amounts will be reduced to $4,000, although the total number of awards will remain the same. Our Big Yellow School Bus program will be on hiatus for at least a year. None of these decisions were easy, but we did our best to shield artists and arts organizations from even greater economic harm at this precarious time.

I hope you will remember that you are not in this alone. Like you, reduced funding impacts the operations side of doing business. We have implemented administrative cost-saving measures and will continue to find ways to reduce costs throughout the year. We’ve been listening to ways that you’re saving and hope to emulate your good decisions. For instance, we have put in place a freeze on hiring and travel. One-half of our staff took pay reductions. (Our staff took this in stride; we recognize everyone is making sacrifices.) We have restricted administrative expenditures to essential goods and services only, restricting new contracts and finding efficiencies in existing ones. We have digitized our few remaining print publications, cut costs related to any future in-person gatherings, reduced panel expenses, extended exhibitions, and, as you can tell, the list simply goes on and on.

Lastly, like many of our grantees, we have postponed events and become part of the nation’s teleworking phenomenon. Many of you have called or written and were surprised to find us - not realizing that we’re all working from home. No matter the state of the world, we hold close the honor we have in working for you, and we do so with both great pride and great humility.

In better news, the Mellon Foundation has been working with us, through Arts Midwest (AMW), on the U.S. Regional Arts Resilience Fund. In early July, arts organizations from the nine AMW states (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois) were nominated or self-nominated for this funding. Now several arts organizations have been asked to fully apply for financial support to catalyze recovery and build resilience as they face disruption and loss during the pandemic. These are non-matching grant awards of $30,000-$75,000, with a total of $1.5 million to be awarded across the nine states. The grants are specifically designated for under-resourced populations and communities with prioritization of organizations that are led by and serving people and communities of color and indigenous people, and/or led by and serving people from rural communities. I’ll keep you updated on this process as it unfolds.

A pandemic doesn’t allow business as usual, but I want you to know we remain focused on doing all we can to secure and allocate public tax dollars at the state and federal levels to support the arts in Ohio. No matter the financial situation, rest assured that the OAC’s commitment to maintaining funding for the arts is our top priority. That said, there is more to the OAC than grant-making. We continue our work in professional development and resource deployment. Here are a few resources you might be interested in:

Public Funding Resources: An NEA and OAC Convening (upcoming August 12 at 10 a.m.) Register Here | Join NEA and OAC staff to learn about grants and other resources available from your national- and state-level public funders of the arts. Following the informational session, you’re invited to participate in a town-hall style, moderated question-and-answer session. The NEA and OAC want to hear from you! We’ll offer some guided questions and take attendee questions as well. This is your chance to share insights so we can better connect you with the resources you need to renew the strength of Ohio’s arts and cultural sector.
Level Up: Best Practices for Today's Visual Artist (originally aired July 8) Watch Recording | You have the skill. You have the desire. Why is it such a struggle to get your work out into the world? Tune in to hear Riffe Gallery Director Cat Sheridan and Individual Artist Programs Coordinator Katie Davis discuss best practices for artists looking to break into the professional art realm. 
Programs and Resources for Ohio Folk and Traditional Artists (originally aired June 17) Watch Recording | Traditional music and dance, handicraft – whatever your folk art, this webinar is for you! Kathy Signorino, director of Artist Programs, and Cristina Benedetti, folk and traditional arts contractor, will walk you through the process of applying for an OAC Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant and nominating someone for the Ohio Heritage Fellowship award.
Individual Excellence Awards: 5 Things to Know Before You Apply (originally aired May 27) Watch Recording  | View Slide Deck | Interested in applying for an Individual Excellence Award but not sure where to start? Join OAC Artist Programs/Percent for Art team members Kathy Signorino and Katie Davis as they take the guesswork out of the application process and offer strategies for crafting a stand-out submission for this longstanding grant program. 

In closing, I want to respond to a question that I get every single day, sometimes multiple times a day: What can we all do to support public funding for the arts?

State Funding: As arts grantees or participants, you can share the impact of your experience (artmaking, economic impact, engagement in your community, arts education and impact on youth, etc.) with your Ohio House of Representatives and Senate members. Let them know their support of the arts through the Ohio Arts Council has made a positive difference for you, your family, and the community. If you want to know how to reach your members, find their contact information online at the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate websites. And, while you’re at it, remember to thank your elected officials for their support of the arts through the state’s budget and the OAC.

Federal Funding: Just like communication at the state level, you can let your member of Congress and U.S. Senators know about the funding you receive and its impact. You can also reach out to federal lawmakers to make your voice heard about the need for federal funding for the arts through the NEA. If not you and I, who will do this important advocacy work?! A great communication example comes this week from Theatre Communication Group. Take a moment to read this article for arts advocacy inspiration.

Thank you for all you have done, all you are doing, and all you will do to battle through the COVID-19 pandemic. We are in this fight alongside you, and we will emerge together – and as we say at the Ohio Arts Council, “the arts are better when we work together.”

Until next time,

Donna Collins signature

Donna S. Collins

Executive Director

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