City to distribute record amount to arts organizations

Sunday, September 9, 2007 | 4:11 p.m. CDT; updated 3:41 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — The city of Columbia is poised to distribute a record $100,000 to local arts organizations to support music and dance programs, theater projects, the True/False Film Festival and other cultural endeavors.

The Commission on Cultural Affairs last Tuesday submitted to the City Council its annual recommendations for how the city should spend money reserved for the arts in fiscal 2008. The recommendations call for a nearly $15,000 increase over last year’s funding.

The increase is the result of some accounting shifts in the city budget that allow the Office of Cultural Affairs to tap money designated for the arts but unspent in previous years.

“There’s something magical about that $100,000 mark that allows you to impact the community through art in a significant way,” said Marie Nau Hunter, manager of the Office of Cultural Affairs.

To get arts money from the city, an organization must submit an application and meet several basic guidelines. Sixteen of the 18 applicants were recommended for funding in this cycle. The commission, however, recommended no funding for the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center at MU or for the Mid-Missouri High Steppers, saying applications were inadequate. According to the Office of Cultural Affairs, both organizations entered the application process at a very late date, making a successful application very difficult.

“They were very incomplete and did not meet the basic guidelines,” commission member Ken Greene said of the groups’ requests.

Nathan Stephens, director of the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center, acknowledged that the center entered the process late but said it submitted its application on time. He was disappointed that the commission recommended the center get no money. He said the center will start the application process earlier next year and will apply only for a small grant from a pool of $5,000 that the city has set aside for quarterly arts awards.

The annual arts funding reflects Columbia’s desire to be a leader in civic arts. Columbia is the only city in Missouri that includes an agency such as the Office of Cultural Affairs, Hunter said. She noted that the Missouri Arts Council recognized Columbia in February with the Creative Community Award.

Jon Poses, executive director of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series, praised the city’s involvement in the arts.

“There’s a psychological impact in knowing the city supports us,” said Jon Poses, executive director of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series. Like the other organizations recommended for funding, “We Always Swing” plans to use the money strictly for local programs and education.

City officials emphasize that they are providing grants to arts organizations by directly purchasing or contracting for the services outlined in their applications. That method, they say, gives them more control over how the money is spent.

The City Council will vote on the commission recommendations, and the 2008 budget as a whole, at its Sept. 17 meeting.

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