The Owensboro City Commission and Daviess Fiscal Court may reconstitute an 8-year-old panel this year to address effective appropriations strategies for local cultural organizations.
Mayor Tom Watson and Judge-Executive Al Mattingly conducted meetings this spring with the intent of building support behind the Cultural Organization Review Panel, or CORP, formed in 2010 to advise both governments on the fiscal health of local arts. The CORP’s work in 2011 culminated in an 11-point recommendation for both the commission and Fiscal Court, but elected officials took no joint action and the group had mostly dissolved by 2012.
But according to Watson, who was admittedly disillusioned by another set of art subsidy hikes in the 2018-19 fiscal budget the city passed Tuesday, the CORP could help pave the way to performance-based public appropriations.
“I feel like it’s time — and I’ve felt like this a long time — to treat the arts in a performance-based way,” the mayor said. “The organizations that are performing well and trying to help themselves, we help them more and try to get some of the other organizations who are coasting, maybe, to have an incentive to do well. The better you do, the better you will do with the CORP.”
The concept mirrors nonprofit grant agencies such as the United Way, which serves as a starting point for social services giving in communities across the nation and world. Together, Daviess County and the city of Owensboro
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give arts and culture organizations more than $900,000 a year, which Watson said could be more influential if targeted effectively.
Indeed, many of the CORP’s recommendations back in 2011 foreshadowed such an organization, including measures that would commission a Community Arts and Cultural Council partially funded by Owensboro Municipal Utilities dividends. Such a council, Watson said, may better be suited to reallocate dollars the city and county governments donated.
It would ultimately be up to the council to determine what performative measures make for a successful arts program, although generating revenue is a plus, the mayor said.
“We do have great arts programs here in Owensboro,” he said. “But we allocate almost $950,000 a year and we feel like, at some point in time, that’s not going to be sustainable.”
Watson this week indicated support for moving forward with such a plan as early as July.
Mattingly, however, downplayed such negotiations and said he only favors the reconstitution of the CORP to conduct a study and rehash their nearly decade-old recommendations. He’s cautious, he said, because there is no willingness on the part of Fiscal Court to decrease county art subsidies. In fact, the judge was a harsh critic of a Community Arts and Cultural Council when it was first proposed, because he said voters entrust the decision to spend public tax dollars in elected officials alone. To shift that responsibility to a nonprofit organization may be irresponsible, he said.
Instead, Mattingly said Wednesday that it is important that the city and county reach common ground in their art spending priorities. From there, a consensus on future priorities can be determined.
“Perhaps the city is interested in changing how they fund the arts, but the county is not,” he said, “and at this point, the city and the county need to be on the same page.”