City Council candidates weigh in on the city’s role in the local arts

As we approach the August 20 Democratic nomination for City Councilors, a question that’s been asked on the state and federal levels is worth asking here. What should be the city government’s role in supporting the arts?

In the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the City budgeted more than $1.6 million on local arts organizations, the vast majority of which goes to the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library. Other recipients include the Charlottesville Municipal Band (which gets $72,885 annually) the City Center for Contemporary Arts ($31,958), McGuffey Art Center ($23,477) and Piedmont Council for the Arts ($21,590). See full numbers here.

That $1.6 million does not include another $100,000 the City spends on community events like our major local film, photograph and book festivals.

I asked candidates to respond by e-mail to this prompt: Many artists and arts institutions enjoy support from the City, from the Piedmont Council for the Arts to the Virginia Film Festival. Meanwhile, faced with the need to provide essential services in tough economic times, the temptation grows strong to jettison support for the arts. Given the above, should the City fund the arts? If so, what kinds of arts projects or organizations should it fund?

Read the candidates’ statements below. (An abridged version of this feature will run in the Best Of issue, which hits stands tomorrow.) Read more about the candidates here.

Scott Bandy (I)
The Arts and Schools are two things that go side by side in a well-rounded life-long education. It is the eye with a taste that is disserviced by the further mistaken notion such is all about starving artist stereotypes. What besides the arts is there for anybody to model or instill refinement from?

Barring the miraculous phenomenon of all nations forgiving every others of debt, I don’t see how in days ahead the city governmental body can unavoid partial discontinuance in respect to some arts. We don’t need that azure figurine from North Carolina Mr. Huja’s preoccupied with. As far as arts priorities, the LAST thing I’d stand seeing cut would be those directed and related to our children and elderly. Even the Festival of the Book bows to some criteria. Hopefully the standard of criteria remain contemplative with regard toward diversity.

Paul Beyer (D)
Cutting money to the Arts in Charlottesville is a case-study in being penny wise but pound foolish. We don’t spend much as it is, and we have not begun to explore the economic potential the Arts offer. The Arts play a significant role in fostering middle-class jobs, driving our local economy, and providing the cultural distinction which makes us an attractive place to live. I have an Arts background, and I would support the Arts whether they ever made us a dollar. The fact is, though, they do. So I support strategic organizations that connect arts, tourism, and city departments and begin to leverage their tremendous potential. My platform is “Jobs-Sustainability-Arts.” Those concepts are tied together by a common theme: expanding opportunities to succeed in Charlottesville. A diverse middle class and working class jobs are important, and the Arts are an underutilized source and inspiration for those jobs.

Colette Blount (D)
The arts are integral to Charlottesville. Not only are they a source of relaxation and entertainment, but they also help mold our children’s life-long appreciation of the creative world. City Council, as outlined in its Vision 2025, aims to uphold its partnership with Piedmont Council for the Arts. Because of PCA’s broad, community outreach, I would support this link. Charlottesville is home to some fantastic festivals: book, cultural, film, and photography. Their local, national, and international draw is a boon to our economy. Toward the goal of sustaining our children’s engagement with the arts, priority consideration should be given to programs/festivals with well defined community outreach, especially with underrepresented groups. Partnerships like the one between The Festival of the Book and our schools are to be maintained. Charlottesville’s diverse local music and burgeoning spoken word and comedy scenes merit support, as they provide engaging outlets for our young adult community.

Brevy Cannon (D)
I grew up in schools that gave me the opportunity to do art from 1st grade through 12th – painting, sculpture, music and theater – and in a family that appreciates art. My brother is a professional musician. Art should be supported for its own sake, because it enriches our lives. A great city deserves great art.

Especially in tough economic times, we must support our city’s world-class festivals of film, books and photography, which draw visitors from around the nation and the world, create jobs and add to our economy. One dollar spent supporting them creates many dollars of benefit to our community.

We get far less economic "bang for our buck" from direct commissions to artists – such as paying for a single "Art in Place" piece. That would be my general metric for prioritizing arts funding – the economic "bang for our buck" generated by a project or organization.

Brandon Collins (I)
Arts and arts education are essential to a decent quality of life. We need to ensure that all people in Charlottesville have access to the arts, not just those who can afford it. I would like to see the city include outreach to low-income people and children in the new assessment policy for funding of non-profits, whether it be for free participation in programs or free admission to performances. We need to continue to support art, music, and theater education in our schools, support the Music Resource Center and continue to provide some funding to the PCA. We also must allow the organic growth of the arts in Charlottesville. I firmly believe that one of the best ways to do this is to change zoning law to allow live music "by-right" in downtown Belmont and to raise the dB limit city wide including for musicians and performers on the Downtown Mall.

Bob Fenwick (I)
I am a writer, a poet, a lyricist and a wannabe guitar player. There is abundant precedent for governmental support of the arts, if for no other reason than it forces community leaders to acknowledge books, paintings, song, dance and the myriad other art forms. I would encourage city support of the arts but would try very hard to minimize political considerations in the support. Too often projects are supported based upon whom you know or whom you have befriended instead of artistic ‘merit’ and once government gives monetary support it usually expects some kind of control over content. This is disastrous to the personal creativity, simplicity and beauty of any art form. Since the city can find millions of dollars for expert consultants (an expert consultant is someone who will take your watch and tell you what time it is) we can find money to support the arts without shortchanging basic help for those who need it in a deep recession.

Kathy Galvin (D)
Cities all over the U.S. know the importance of integrating arts programming into their regular operations. Charlottesville’s direct funding for the arts and arts festivals is under one percent of the 2011-2012 budget – it’s money well spent. Whether you look at the direct economic boost our local businesses receive (hotels, restaurants, and more benefit from arts tourism), or at the confidence and inspiration that participation in the arts can give to every child – every person, in fact – the arts are an essential, if intangible, infrastructure that nurtures our individual minds and our community’s heart. We must continue to support arts in our schools and the community, and look for additional ways that the city can incorporate arts and artisans into the fabric of Charlottesville – perhaps through housing options (as Ventura, CA, has done), public exhibition and performance opportunities, or artist-in-residence stints with summer camps, to name only a few possibilities.

James Halfaday (D)
Art, whether the fine arts or the performing arts, is one of the fundamental expressions of the culture of a community. As such, there should always be a place in the city budget for the support of local artists and arts institutions. Tough economic times can result in the reduction of available funds in a lot of areas, and it is certainly critical to provide essential services and educational opportunities to all of our residents, but is also important to support the vitality and growth of our culture and community through the arts. The projects and organizations to be funded should focus on providing support for local artists and on bringing exposure of the art of our county and the rest of the world to the residents of Charlottesville. Permanent expressions of art should always be provided from local resources and by local artists where possible. Support should be divided among the fine arts and the performing arts, as well as the literary arts.

Satyendra Huja (D)
I am a strong supporter of art and cultural activities in our community. Art and cultural activity make a great quality of life for our citizens and also brings visitors and revenue to the city. I will continue to support: all our festivals, Piedmont Council for the Arts, McGuffey, Live Arts, Paramount, Discovery Museum, Art In Place, the Charlottesville Municipal Band and many other cultural activities in our community. Arts enrich our lives and make us unique and deserve our support.

Paul Long (I)
I strongly support the city of Charlottesville supporting the arts. If elected to City Council, I would consult with the arts community, the business community, as well as the philanthropic community, to determine the level of financial support the arts need to survive. The city’s support of the arts should be all-encompassing. We should be supporting both professional and community theater. We should be supporting all types of musical performance. We should also be supporting ballet, as well as other forms of dance. We should also be supporting painting and sculpture. I believe that the city’s financial support of the arts should be open-ended. I believe that the City should be an equal financial supporter of the arts, along with the business community, and the philanthropic community as well.

Dede Smith (D)
I believe that exposure to the arts is essential to a well-rounded life. I support public funding of the arts and would favor programs that reach the widest range of age, income, race, and ethnicity. Programs for children, such as those that bring a diversity of music, theater and art experiences into the schools support multiple goals. One priority for me would be to assure that initiatives that receive public funding strive for inclusion of the many cultures represented in our community. Likewise, the use of city venues and city support of festivals should be sensitive to representing a diverse population of artists and audiences. In terms of funding in tight economic times, the economic benefit of attracting tourism to Charlottesville for artistic events should be considered.

Andrew Williams (I)
Safety, the homeless, jobs, housing, representing the underrepresented and our local economy in general are the most important priorities hands down. Fortunately funding for the arts is still within our reasonable means and is an idea I fully support, without forgetting we need to monitor our localized circumstances.

The beautiful and thought-provoking works of art in Charlottesville should be recognized as an extension of our very own City. As the resident is the primary shareholder of Charlottesville in my opinion, it would be wise to focus on the interest of the majority and address the concern of the few. In general, I believe we can give people what they want by scrutinizing the departmental budgets and making sure that there is balance regarding City allocations. Cville should continue to support various children’s organizations associated with art and certainly the Fine Art Department in our schools.

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