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Written by: Tom Rieland
Date: February 2, 2011

Two reports, one national and another focused on Columbus point to the challenges facing nonprofit arts organizations today. The Americans for the Arts announced the first update to its National Arts Index. The 2010 Index offers the first comprehensive picture of how the arts fared during the Great Recession. An increasing number of organizations and individuals are struggling to make ends meet. In 2008, 41 percent of nonprofit arts organizations reporting to the IRS failed to achieve a balanced budget, up from 36 percent in 2007. Fueling the drop in the Index and the growing number of arts organizations’ inability to balance their budgets are declines in earned income and charitable giving.

Meanwhile, The Columbus Foundation released the Columbus Arts Sustainability Analysis last week that showed a ten-year aggregate loss in earned revenue of 28 percent. The report made the point that the Columbus market may not be able to sustain as many arts organizations in the future and noted the ten-year growth in the number of arts organizations. The key recommendation in my view was the call to advocate for both local and statewide dedicated tax revenue for the arts. The Cleveland arts community, for instance, benefitted from a cigarette tax that has produced over $48 million for the arts since its inception in 2007! Meanwhile, Minneapolis benefits from state funding levels that have tripled in the past few years due to a state tax to support the arts.

Certainly, poorly managed and supported arts organizations should either merge or be left to shutdown, but Columbus and Ohio leaders and citizens have to step up to give the arts a better opportunity to not just survive, but thrive.