Friday, January 19, 2001

Art matters

Is football hallmark of culture?

        Much of the Tristate recently lined up at the Cincinnati Art Museum to see pretty pictures from the land down under. Three more people — the Hamilton County Commissioners — must still get in line.

        The county's budget contains nary a penny for the museum. The commissioners can help the local economy by putting some money where the crowds are.

        The museum is on a roll. The just-closed European Masterpieces exhibition was the fifth best-attended show in the beloved institution's 120-year history.

        Museum attendance for the 2 1/2-month exhibit of masterworks from the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, was 98,823. Of those, 62,284 people — cutting across lines of age, race, gender and income — went to the highly accessible show.

        For Sunday's finale, the museum stayed open until midnight. As the clock ticked toward 12, nearly 200 people still lingered to savor these works of art. No one complained about it being past his bedtime.

Think regionally
        The county commissioners must wake up. The art museum needs some modest financial help to keep the crowds coming. That support should come from county commissioners elected to serve all the people. Our tax dollars should be spread countywide, not concentrated on one money-pit project.

        Timothy Rub, the museum's director, told me county funds could foster “an audience development partner-ship, building strong relationships between the museum and schools, cities, townships and community groups in the county.”

        He sees this plan extending into Butler, Warren and Clermont counties, as well as neighboring counties in Kentucky and Indiana.

        That brand of regionalism would increase tourism, create jobs and put tax money into the county's coffers.

Penny-wise, pound-foolish
        Last year, Hamilton County gave nothing to the art museum. This year, the museum is again set to get zip.

        Yet the county commissioners continue to pay a fortune in cost overruns for the $459.2 million Paul Brown Stadium.

        “The idea of county support for the arts should not be allowed to die,” said Commissioner Tom Neyer. The county's arts advocate, he has his hands tied for now. Ethical conflicts, stemming from his work with the Regional Cultural Alliance, have restricted his activities on behalf of the arts.

        Newcomer Commissioner Todd Portune wants to see where the county's money is going before he approves any new spending.

        Senior Commissioner John Dowlin wants a good return on county money.

        For guidance, the commissioners should turn to Dayton's Montgomery County.

        Alexander Nyerges, director of the Dayton Art Institute, told me his museum annually receives “about $250,000” from Montgomery's county commissioners.

        “That money comes from the county's $2 million annual arts allotment,” he said.

        The county money the Art Institute receives goes for “special exhibits and audience development. We have concrete evidence of the jobs it creates, the tourism base it generates and the money it brings into the county.”

        Hamilton County should follow the lead of our neighbors to the north. Montgomery County's commissioners get the picture: Giving tax dollars to the arts benefits everyone.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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