If Toledo is ever to be a vibrant, elegant city, its “arts people” need to start running for office, Mayor Jack Ford said last night.
“You people need a new paradigm that links politics with arts,” he told about 40 local theater, music, dance, and visual arts leaders. “Too many of you think, `Politics, euuugh! That's dirty! I don't want anything to do with that!'
“But if everyone here was a political activist for the arts, we'd be a lot closer to solving our [arts] funding problems in Toledo,” the mayor said.
“The Art People,” those involved in the mayor's newly formed Arts and Culture Committee, gathered in the lush lobby of the Valentine Theatre last night to talk about arts funding, but they ended up listening to a mayoral speech on political involvement and a pitch from the Ohio Arts Council to make good use of services already available.
Wayne Lawson, executive director of the Ohio Arts Council, gave a rundown on how the state is a national leader in raising funds and giving grants to artists.
Toledo is not alone in its desire for a cultural community that appeals to tourists, he said. He gave examples of how other cities and towns are approaching the challenge.
The hard part, he said, is the initial soul-searching required.
“You need to figure out what are the core values that make Toledo unique,” he said. “Once you know that, you can bring that to the mayor, to the funding agencies, the legislators. That is the first step to making this a better place to do art.”
Toledo already has an edge on many other Ohio cities, he said, because it receives funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Locally, a Percent for the Arts levy on new construction requires part of all building costs to be set aside for arts programs and artwork.
But local artists don't know which galleries may show their work, or how to write grants, or where to find grant-giving institutions.
And there's no advocate for the arts in the Ohio legislature, the mayor added.
A theater impresario suggested forming a list of contacts among area arts groups.
“I have that list!” cried Susan Reams, the city's arts consultant. She handed out index cards, so participants could write down information about their interests and contacts.
Artists stood to speak, and others answered for them. A church with an after-school tutoring program connected with leaders of several youth-oriented theater and music groups. The meeting turned to a lively exchange of information and ideas, and business cards changed hands briskly afterward.
“You have to keep talking, keep brainstorming,” Mr. Lawson told them. “[The state] cannot reasonably fund every art project, but we are here to help. It's our hope this city will form some kind of mechanism of its own to fund ground-level artists and initiatives. You have a great start already.”