Council brings arts group back from the brink

A few weeks ago, the City Council voted for big cuts in city financial support for the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council. Then, last night, the council voted against those cuts, putting thousands of dollars back in the nonprofit’s pockets.

Rethinking past decisions tends to happen when death is discussed.

“Kill,” “death,” and “death-knell” were a few of the words arts advocates used to describe the consequences of the cuts.

The council did a bit of a flip-flop, but who wants to be known as the executioner of an organization that breathes a lot of art into the island’s life.

You might not be acquainted with BIAHC, but you’ve probably enjoyed the Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival at the Lynwood Theatre, or sat in on one of the Great Decisions lectures at the library, or toured the gardens during Bainbridge In Bloom, or pondered the meaning of the spidery steel legs creeping from behind the wall outside City Hall. (One islander has postulated that it’s a statement about the lurking, predatory nature of municipalities toward the free market. Crawling from the web of bureaucracy, the spider (the city) means to strike the unwitting world of commerce (San Carlos restaurant, across the street) and paralyze it with the venom of taxation.*)

All of these community-fueled projects (including the alien eggs hatching to the east of the spider legs) are partially or wholly the doing of BIAHC.

For my coverage of the council’s move to put money back into the BIAHC budget, read on…

*(I made that up)

City Council reinstates funding critical to arts group’s survival
By Tristan Baurick

An organization considered central to the Bainbridge arts community was brought back from the brink on Wednesday.

In a rare move, the City Council reversed an earlier spending decision, restoring a large portion of the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council’s 2009 funding.

BIAHC Board President Anne Blair gave an impassioned plea for the organization’s survival, warning that the council’s earlier 40 percent reduction in financial support would could lead to the 22-year-old nonprofit’s demise.

“As it stands now, this budget rings the death-knell of the arts and humanities council,” Blair told the City Council.

The organization’s wide reach includes arts education programs, workshops and public performances. Another key role BIAHC plays in the community is channeling dollars to artists, projects and about a dozen other arts groups.

Blair struck a chord with council members when she said reduced funding would also mean BIAHC would cease providing several services to the city, including cultural facilities planning and management of the city’s public arts program.

“All these programs – most of which have garnered statewide and even national recognition for our island – will revert to direct city management,” Blair said.

After listening to Blair and others speak in favor of the BIAHC, Councilman Chris Snow said the council should reconsider the cuts.

“I made a hasty decision,” Snow said, explaining his earlier vote in favor of the reductions. “We’re at risk of doing serious damage.”

Councilwoman Debbie Vancil also threw her support behind restored funding, arguing that the arts are important to the local economy.

“Arts mean business on Bainbridge Island,” she said, citing a BIAHC study that found nonprofit arts-related enterprises are an $8.7 million-a-year industry that supports almost 200 fulltime jobs.

The 2006 study, which was partly funded by the city, also found that the arts generated over $730,000 in local and state tax revenue on the island.

“This isn’t chump change,” Vancil said.

Vancil won the council’s support for cutting just $23,000 rather than $40,000 in 2009, and $23,000 rather than $94,000 in 2010. All told, the BIAHC will now likely face $46,000 worth of cuts instead of $134,000 in the city’s final biennial budget.

“It’s literally breathtaking to having this change of course,” Blair said after the council’s 6-1 vote to restore part of the funding. “We’ve been spending three intensive weeks figuring out what we were going to do. This is absolutely wonderful.”

Blair said BIAHC would now likely be able to maintain current projects and support for other organizations, but some staff reductions and other cuts may be in the works.

Several other organizations are also bracing for sizeable reductions in city financial support. The council has said the cuts are necessary to offset declining revenues.

Representatives from the Kids Discovery Museum and the city’s nonmotorized transportation committee were unsuccessful on in their pleas on Wednesday for restored funding.