Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Things are still, still a mess at the Metro Arts Commission. Mismanagement could Imperil Metro Arts Budget. Race-based funding could be Unconstitutional.

by Rod Williams, Feb. 28, 2024- Will things ever settle down at the Metro Arts Commission? It is embarrassing that such dysfunction can exist in an agency of Metro Government. If the agency does not get its act together what meager funding they do get is in jeopardy. 

The mess at the Arts Commission has been going on since at least 2016. Back in 2016 the agency underwent a change to promote equity and to engage in more "micro-funding opportunities, education programs and neighborhood-specific initiatives." Prior the agency had focused on funding a handful of high profile established organization such as Children's Theater, Frist, the symphony, ballet and a few others. These were too white for modern liberal sensibilities. Turmoil followed the change in focus.  Conflicts between funding large organizations versus small independent artists continues at the commission. 

There have been scandals, lawsuits, charges of racism and sexism, resignations, oustings, and changes in leadership at the Commission. Commission employees have described the agency’s leadership style as “rely[ing] heavily on intimidation, fear and punishment” and fostering a “culture of individualism, competition and secrecy." Outside organizations have been hired to help the Commission "overcome their racist past and transition to an anti-racist future." Still yet, things do not seem to improve.

This brings us up to now and things are not getting better and the funding for Metro Arts is now in jeopardy. Metro does not spend a lot on the arts. At last year's budget hearings, Metro Arts Commission Chair Matia Powell said peer cities like Austin, Dallas and San Francisco fund their arts communities at around 1% of their overall budget, while Nashville devotes about 0.017% of its budget to Metro Arts (2). 

I am not sure that Metro should spend more on arts. I think arts funding should primarily rely on art patrons. Of course, I feel the same about sports and think sports stadiums should be funded by sports fans. I also am not a big fan of public golf courses. However, we do not spend a lot of public money on arts. If the Arts Commission does not get their act together, they cannot expect more money; they may get less. Here is the latest. 

New Mismanagement Claims Imperil Metro Arts Budget

By Connor Daryani, Nashville Banner, February 27, 2024 - As artists and art organizations continue to plead for an increase to funding for the arts in Nashville, alleged overspending and financial malpractice at Metro Arts could put the meager financial support the arts do get at risk. 

Metro Finance Director Kevin Crumbo revealed on Monday that $2 million earmarked for Nashville arts organizations are in jeopardy due to the mismanagement of the department budget.

“The simple truth is the commission will not be in a position to make additional grant awards if its financial position is already headed to a deficit,” Crumbo at a meeting of the newly formed Arts Commission Oversight Committee said. “Surplus monies may be needed as part of a corrective action plan to avoid a deficit, and if so, less money will be available for grants.”

... “One of the root causes of the Internal Audit review, the Law Department investigation and the additional oversight of our Finance Department are the reports of multiple [Metro Arts] employees who have alleged excess spending over budget, possible violations of procurement and other established financial processes and behaviors at the highest level of management that may violate Metro’s policies governing workplace conduct,” said Crumbo. ... unclear if consultants and contractors were paid in a way that adheres to Metro’s rules ... Not only is the second half of operational grant funding at risk, Crumbo also indicated that the future of Metro Arts funding could be in trouble should the issues not get resolved. 

.... “My understanding of what happened is that at the July meeting, there were some decisions made where race was taken as an express factor, which we believed is unconstitutional,” Metro Legal Director Wally Dietz said at the Monday night Metro Council arts committee meeting. (read much more about this here)

Also see: Things are still a mess at the Metro Arts Commission. Metro Arts launches initiative to 'return land, money, and resources' to 'Indigenous, African, and Asian peoples'

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