A program offering low-interest loans to help Lucas County residents buy the works of artists from throughout the county is winding down because of a lack of participation.
Three people have received the loans at 1 percent interest since the county-funded Art Assist program launched in July, 2007, with enthusiastic support from county Commissioner Ben Konop, who introduced and modeled the program on one he had heard about in Manchester, England..
Art Assist is administered by KeyBank, and was funded through the county's investment of a one-year certificate of deposit of $250,000, of which $25,000 was set aside for art loans.
Mr. Konop said he and county Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz reviewed the program after the CD matured, and based on the lackluster use, agreed to end it. KeyBank will continue offering the art loans $500 to $2,500 through Dec. 31.
"It's just a very tough time to sell art right now," Mr. Konop said. "There was just no purchasing going on in the art world."
The program's cost to taxpayers was about $7,880, or about the difference between the potential $10,392 return that the county could have received at a 4.157 percent interest rate and the $2,511 it did receive at the lower 1 percent yield. The county also received some sales tax revenue from the purchases.
Nevertheless, Mr. Konop said believes Art Assist was "definitely worthwhile" as an attempt at stimulating the market for local residents' artwork.
He attributed the low participation to a worsening economic picture - both regionally and nationwide - and to tighter bank lending practices that kept some prospective buyers from getting applications approved.
"Everyone is trying. There is no shortage of effort. It's just that selling the merchandise in this economy is very difficult," Mr. Konop said.
The program also had no marketing budget, and for publicity it relied on flyers, media attention, and promotional visits to galleries by an unpaid county intern, he added.
KeyBank received five to six applications and ultimately approved three after implementing its "standard credit policies," said Dan Davis, public relations manager for KeyBank's Great Lakes region.
Mr. Davis said he could not provide data on the size of the loans because of customer confidentiality. One program participant, Michelle Carlson, 26, said she found it helpful in allowing her, through monthly installments, to buy a $500 painting by local artist Michael Arrigo.
Ms. Carlson, who works as programs coordinator for the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, said it was by far the biggest art purchase that she has made.
"With limited finances, it's hard to just shell out a lot of cash," said Ms. Carlson, herself an artist of prints and handbound books. "It's actually up in my apartment as we speak. I get many comments on it."
Mr. Konop said he did not regret launching the program.
"If we don't keep trying these new ideas, we're just going to continue down the path we've been going on" economically, he said. "I'm not against bringing it back at some point, but obviously the economy needs to come back a bit."
The commissioner said the Art Assist experiment also highlights the importance of local artists reaching out beyond Lucas County to sell their work.
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