Blog: Jenny Callans

"Art doesn't transform. It just plain forms." - Roy Lichtenstein. Dedicated to making the arts a community pillar for Macomb County is Dr. Jennifer Callans, executive director of the Anton Art Center. This week Jenny will open the discussion on arts funding, programming, and the art community's changing demographics.

Post 1: Perspectives on Arts Funding

Metro Detroiters will probably vote soon on a property tax initiative to provide some funding to one of our region's anchor institutions, the Detroit Institute of Arts.  Many of us feel that residents should share in supporting cornerstones such as the DIA – otherwise, what defines us as a community?  We need more than shared geography to be whole, and the making and consuming of art is one of the defining characteristics of humanity.

But tax funding can only be one piece of the funding picture for the DIA.  We always hear about the need for a diverse portfolio when investing, and that's true of just about any scenario.  Diversity creates opportunity, it allows for change and adaptability.

And if there's one thing metro Detroit has in spades, it's diversity.  That can help us as we try to rebuild our region, and the arts can play a large part.  Art communicates on a fundamental level, beyond the frameworks of language, religion, politics, and nationality.  

We've all heard that a thriving art scene attracts young people, and that artists can help turn around urban decay.  But so what?  When we have so many significant infrastructural needs in metro Detroit, when schools are in trouble, when roads are in disrepair, when there's such a gaping hole in social services, who needs art and why is it worth funding?  After all, the arts can pay their own way - by charging for admission, by selling goods and merchandise, and so on.  

Again, that earned income can be only one piece of the funding puzzle.  The Anton Art Center is typical in having a mix of income streams.  About half the center's income is earned:  gift shop sales, class registrations, art fair booth sales.  Grants and corporate sponsorships each account for about 20% of the center's annual budget.  Memberships make up the rest. 

This means that almost every aspect of the center's operations is relying on a lot of different pieces to stay afloat.  There's no "pay dirt", not one aspect of our programming that could pay the way for everything else. 

For an art center, that's reasonable.  We're here for the community, because of the community, and therefore we need to have a diverse slate of programs that address different needs.  Some of these programs are self-sustaining, and some will never be.  The members, donors and sponsors who support us know that and want to do their part to ensure that the center's entire slate survives.

In fact many, perhaps even most, of the Anton Art Center's members don't consider themselves art patrons or art lovers.  That can be a discouraging realization.  But these same people support the center because it's a point of pride for the community, a positive center of collective identity.