The millions that Fine Arts Fund raises for Cincinnati's eight major art institutions - in the neighborhood of $9 million annually for the past couple of years - make it a whale in Cincinnati's culture pond. Now, 2003 will illustrate what's best and worst about the fund.
Following a United Way campaign that didn't make its goal, it's no accident that Procter & Gamble is again steering this year's effort, with the expectation that P&G head A.G. Lafley will sign a check to make sure it meets goal.
What's best about the fund, is of course, that it provides 10-20 percent of the operating budget of Cincinnati's Big Eight (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Art Museum, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati Opera, the Taft Museum of Art, Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati May Festival).
It is why Cincinnati is only one of a dozen U.S. cities that has a symphony, ballet, opera and "A" list regional theater. In economic hard times, it's a safety net that helps arts managers sleep at night.
In economic hard times, 2003 is looking even rougher for everybody else. Once the Big Eight have been funded, what remains is about 7 cents of every $1 to be divided among more than 200 regional mid-sized and small organizations.
Some institutions, such as Cincinnati Museum Center, are shut out.
The misperception that the Fine Arts Fund takes care of all the arts has always strangled growth at lower levels. It will have even greater fallout in 2003 with more need and fewer dollars.
Another positive: In 2003, watch for the Fine Arts Fund to at last embrace an effort to "brand" the arts because the current push rises from the business community, not grass roots activists. The fund's participation will be enough to give the effort the momentum it needs.
Another negative: A poorly considered attempt to control all things cultural will waste some of the extraordinary opportunities of 2003. The Fine Arts Fund is a superb money manager, which is why it has been the last word in arts and culture decision-making among the corporate community. What they aren't are visionaries or creative thinkers.
So the Fine Arts Fund's answer to this year's once-in-a-lifetime cultural opportunities is an ill-planned marketing campaign given a fancy "festival" title.
Look no further than Dayton and its "Inventing Flight" celebration planned for summer to show how these things can and should be done. (Check out the Web site, www.inventingflight.com.)
The Fine Arts Fund has one more opportunity in 2003 to learn from its mistakes as it plans for the Festival of Freedom in 2004.
CULTURE IN 2003
25 forces that will shape culture in 2003
1. The big economic squeeze
2. Clear Channel's dominance
3. Suburbanites: Will they roam?
4. The plea for racial healing
5. The media's message
6. A whole new ball game
7. Edgy art center opening
8. Tall Stacks rolls back
9. Will tourists go home happy?
10. How Fine Arts Fund carries clout
11. You can't fight City Hall
12. Laura Long: Downtown force
13. The CSO's growing empire
14. Rosenthals' big impact
15. Northern Kentucky development
16. Museum Center's main man
17. Lobbyist Weiland
18. UC at crossroads
19. The Nederlanders make a comeback
20. MidPoint: Rebuild the city on rock 'n' roll
21. The Schuster Center alternative
22. Another public art project goes to bat
23. The brain drain
24. Local film community gains focus
25. Dancing around visa problems
The wild card of 2003: War
2003 dates to keep in mind
DEMALINE: The arts
KENDRICK: Alive & Well
Get to it!