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BCPA Funding Debate on Bloomington City Council

Tue, 12 Jun 2012 01:06:35 CDT
By: Charlie Schlenker

BCPA Funding Debate on Bloomington City Council The Bloomington City Council is sending a message to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts...cut the budget next year. No one, though, on either side of the debate over funding for the downtown cultural district has an idea yet how much. WGLT's Charlie Schlenker has this report.

Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt music - Some things my baby don't tolerate from me

The Center for the Performing Arts has hundreds of events per year everything from big name headliners like Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt, to community gatherings, to concerts by groups that have a much much smaller audience, say the Harlem Gospel Choir.

Programs at the Center for the Performing Arts have brought in more than half a million people to the downtown area since it opened some years ago. Jim Waldorf, the head of the Cultural District Commission says city documents show an operating subsidy of 46% when original estimates at the founding were for a subsidy on the order of 58%.

"That looks to me that we are within the realm of reasonable discussion of operation and expenses at the bcpa."

The Miller Park Zoo, for instance, has an operating subsidy of 50%. But during the last budget setting session early this year, Aldermen said they were uneasy with a nearly 25% jump in the city allocation of sales tax money to the BCPA. Part of the problem is varying understandings of how much the city is supposed to pay. Originally the Cultural District was to have access to revenue from a quarter point sales tax increase. Alderman Jennifer McDade says the landscape changed.

"There are competing figures. There's the 2000 quarter point, but there's the 2002 council that capped it at one point five million. "

Now, this year's amount of one point nine million is still within that original quarter point. But, Aldermen like Bernie Anderson have balked at the sudden jump of $450,000 for this year.

"you just don't have carte blanche"

The increase is only sudden, because the BCPA had been using reserves accumulated in the years between the time the city started collecting the sales tax and the time the renovated BCPA opened. Now, however, City Manager David Hales says, the current level is not sustainable across city government because the days of five to six percent annual revenue growth are over.

"The truth is that we are in this new normal and that the revenue we have been seeing generated in the last few years is not keeping pace with those increasing costs."

Early this year Alderman Judy Stearns said she believes the city should not be in the business of cultural programming and that all of it should be abolished. She acknowledges that is not the current reality.

"The city certainly IS in the business. And I applaud the renovation of the building obviously, so many wonderful things. But, are the taxpayers, can can any more pressure be put on the taxpayers? What they're telling me is no."

So the active question is not whether there should be a subsidy, but how much of a subsidy. . Alderman Steve Purcell says he wants the BCPA to be self-sustaining, like U-S Cellular Coliseum. That, though, has never been in the center's mission. In fact, the BCPA is supposed to lose money on some events by programming for smaller and diverse audiences out of the mainstream, classical music, world music, dance, and groups like this, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. (instrumental music plays) Joel Aalberts is the Performing Arts Director for the BCPA. He says everyone in town should find at least one event per year that appeals.

"Because it really does add to the fabric of life in the community. It makes it a place that people understand different groups, they understand different ethnicities, the background that brings people to Bloomington-Normal."

Fewer money losers would be a good thing, though, according to Mayor Steve Stockton.

" Personally I have been in a few shows where there have been fewer than a hundred people in the show. That I found a little embarrassing for the performer and the city."

Alderman David Sage says tallying the red ink reveals the shows that lost money totalled more than last year's funding increase. Sage says Bloomington shouldn't foot the bill for the entire community.

"It may be that there can be a diversity of art and culture brought to the twin cities. It doesn't necessarily mean that it is incumbent on the city of Bloomington to provide that full diversity. It may be in conjunction with Normal, with ISU, with Wesleyan, with some of the private theater groups in the city or something like that."

Alderman Judy Stearns says she would prefer the original 1.5 million subsidy dollars. Cultural District leaders say that would cause significant harm to the institution. And Cultural District Commission head Jim Waldorf says even a reasonable estimate is difficult to derive right now.

"Until we start finding out from the booking agents what kind of shows are available for next year, what kind of shows are going to be travelling through the area, we can't put together a wish list that's going to give us a price."

City Council Members say they want to continue the conversation to get to a number well ahead of next year's budget process. The role of government in fostering a good quality of life in a community is not a new issue. About a century and a half ago, when Judge David Davis donated land to the city of Bloomington for its first park, many in the community thought the city should turn it down because it was a frivolous use of city resources to take care of park land. Nowadays, of course, the Franklin Park area is a beautiful quiet and stately neighborhood just off the downtown, near the BCPA. So one thing is sure, the debate over performing arts subsidies likely won't be the last time such questions pop up in Bloomington.

Music - "You never pay just once to get the job done" and instrumental fade


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