The Case For SB255: The Arts Drive Investment...And Need Investment

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Legislators are considering Senate Bill 255, and I am hoping that it passes.

SB255 was introduced by State Senator Jon Ford to provide a new source of much-needed funding for Cultural Districts. The bill proposes a system similar to TIF Funding: a municipality with a Statewide Cultural District can designate a cultural district development area to capture incremental sales tax and income tax to be transferred to the Indiana Arts Commission Trust Fund and to be used only for the benefit of the tax area. This clever strategy to find funding without increasing taxes or imposing new fees would reward, incentivize and continue growth within the districts, and would put Indiana on par with other states that have successful cultural district funding programs.

The Statewide Cultural District Program recognizes areas where the creative sector is driving economic and community development. So far, ten districts in Indiana have been designated through the IAC’s rigorous selection process (including three in Hamilton County, where I live and work!), and these ten communities are leading the way in demonstrating how the arts can drive investment, economic growth, workforce development, tourism and much more.

However, while these districts have been raising the state’s reputation and economic resiliency, the Districts haven’t necessarily been getting a lot of love from the state itself. The Indiana Arts Commission has worked hard to offer professional resources to these districts and encourage networking among the artists and organizations associated with each district, but they have had very little funding to offer to incentivize continued growth and investment. Until now.

This new bill allows Cultural Districts to benefit directly from the economic investment and growth they drive. The municipalities that would designate a cultural development area would be required to match the funds they receive, which holds communities accountable for continued growth in the creative sector, and highlights a very tangible benefit of the arts.

As the Executive Director of Nickel Plate Arts, I get to provide arts consultation for the cities of Noblesville and Fishers and in 2016, I assisted Americans for the Arts in conducting a study to ascertain the economic impact of the arts & culture nonprofits in Hamilton County. Twenty-one nonprofits qualified for the study, most of them in Fishers, Noblesville, and Carmel (all cities with Cultural Districts). According to that survey, “The nonprofit arts and culture sector is a $58.1 million industry in Hamilton County—one that supports 1,921 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $5.6 million in local and state government revenue.” And that’s just the nonprofits—those numbers would soar if the for-profit arts businesses were included.

This study also highlights how critical new funding sources are for our Cultural Districts. The 21 nonprofits studied spent $36.2 million on their programs and services. Very few of those nonprofits have endowments, and availability of general operating grants in Hamilton County is low. Although many of these nonprofits charge admission or other fees, those fees rarely cover all of their associated expenses. Arts & culture nonprofits cannot grow without new sources of operational support. As nonprofits grow, so will the audiences they attract and the for-profit businesses all around them.

Sure, it’s easy to roll your eyes and say that of course Hamilton County has the resources to support three Cultural Districts. But even in Indiana’s most prosperous county, survival for arts & culture nonprofits and small businesses is a struggle. Imagine how hard it is for the Cultural Districts in other areas of the state.  That’s why it is critical that SB255 pass next week: our cultural assets need investment now.

Big, cool employers want cool places for their workers to live and play. Their employees want to be a part of communities with creative outlets for their non-work passions and that have community-sourced mechanisms for dealing with larger social challenges and conversations. We all want to be a part of something meaningful, and each of the ten Statewide Cultural Districts are places to get connected to meaningful endeavors and creative outlets.

You can be a part of something meaningful right now: join me in supporting this new legislation to invest in art, creativity, and culture.

Ailithir McGill is executive director of Nickel Plate Arts.

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