Toledo photographer Audrey Johnson, left, speaks with Julie Henahan, executive director of the Ohio Arts Council, after a public forum the state council held at the Sanger branch of the Toledo- Lucas County Public Library to hear what northwest Ohioans want and appreciate in the arts.
Ohio Arts Council Executive Director Julie Henahan quelled concerns yesterday over northwest Ohio's lack of representation on the group's board for the first time in 24 years.
"This is a temporary situation," Ms. Henahan said at last night's town hall meeting about the arts in the Sanger branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, 3030 West Central Ave.
"The governor and the Ohio Arts Council understand the importance and necessity of having geographic representation on the board."
Ms. Henahan and several staff members from her Columbus office held three public meetings in Toledo as part of the council's first Listening Tour aimed at soliciting ideas and concerns from citizens about art and culture in their communities.
Attending were 90 people - leaders of every arts-related group in town, artists, politicians, educators, a handful of business people, and residents.
At each session, Ms. Henahan gave assurances that northwest Ohio will again have a place at the table when the terms of three board members from other parts of the state expire this summer.
Two area board members whose terms expired this year, Mary Wolfe of Perrysburg and Martha MacDonell of Lima, were recommended for reappointment by Ms. Henahan, but Gov. Ted Strickland replaced them with people who live in the Columbus area.
Of the 19-member board, nine are from Greater Columbus.
She noted that local arts advocates are planning a special meeting soon to find suitable board candidates, and their names and credentials should be forwarded to her as soon as possible.
The OAC is a state agency charged with distributing money from the state legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.
She noted that another important task people can volunteer for is serving on one of a dozen panels that review and make recommendations about grant applications to fund arts events.
"That's where the real decisions are made," said the OAC's deputy director, Mary Campbell-Zopf.
Among the ideas the OAC staff heard in Toledo was to add a category for grants that involve arts organizations partnerships.
They heard repeatedly about shrinking school audiences for theatrical and musical performances due to the pressure teachers feel to narrow their focus to standardized test preparation.
And they heard about how one small organization promotes its message by creating a Facebook page, putting clips of performances on YouTube, and sending out FlashMails.
Can the OAC help Toledo with a session to brainstorm ways to enliven imagination, innovation, and creativity, one person asked last night?
"This creativity conversation has to happen out in the community," said Ms. Campbell-Zopf, adding that funds might be available for such an undertaking.
Information gleaned from the Listening Tour will help OAC staff when it meets with individual legislators this winter, said Ms. Henahan, and in the spring when she will testify at House and Senate committees about the OAC budget.
"They will hear stories from around the state about how important the arts are," she said.
The OAC's budget is less than 1/20th of 1 percent of Ohio's budget, she said.
This year, the OAC has had its budget cut twice because the state faces a deficit and must end the year with a balanced budget.
The OAC's $24.9 million biennial budget for 2008-09 was trimmed to $21.9 million, comparable to its 1994-95 funding level.
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