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Transparency and the Critical Months Ahead

We’ve read and heard a lot (I mean a lot) about “transparency” in the last few months. I’m big on the topic myself. Throughout my career I’ve always had bosses and colleagues around me who believed in telling it like it was (or is). Transparency, as a critical component of leadership, has always been my style. I want you to hear it from me first, not on the street or at the water cooler.

For nearly nine years as the executive director of your Ohio Arts Council, I’ve been transparent – through our agency’s 50th and 55th anniversaries, during online grants platform transitions, through an ongoing series of budget increases at the state and federal levels (with an historic high of $40 million this biennium), during the COVID-19 pandemic, through staff changes and promotions, across two state administrations and several board member departures and appointments, and with all of you in an evolving arts sector environment. Today is no different.

To keep you informed about FY 2024-2025 budget season I have a few things to share: 
We began the state biennial budget process last fall and submitted our request to the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) in October. It was a new process and OBM Director Kimberly Murnieks was transparent about the how and why of state agency requests: they required justification with demonstrable results and supporting data. Here at the Ohio Arts Council we loved that guidance because through our transparent application and final reporting processes we collect great information and solid data from our applicants and grantees to justify why public funding for the arts and culture through the OAC matters for Ohio. 

Our collection of your data and information provided the Ohio Arts Council with the ability to create a compelling request for our FY 2024-2025 biennial (July 1, 2023-June 30, 2025) budget. We requested an additional $10.6 million over the biennium for grantmaking, and we were able to make this appeal because we had the data and facts to substantiate the need.

Since the last Sustainability grant program on-year in FY 2020, the OAC has dramatically boosted its efforts to fund the arts in all 88 counties, first achieved in FY 2016. We must live our mission to provide greater access and opportunity for Ohioans to experience the arts wherever they are.  As a result, 199 organizations are newly eligible to apply for operating support grants in Sustainability in FY 2024—an extraordinary increase of 58%. Our request for additional dollars is needed for this reason alone.
In February, Governor DeWine will release his executive budget. It will be introduced in the House (and assigned to a committee) for consideration. Next the budget will move to the Senate (and the Senate Finance Committee) in late spring, and finally to Conference Committee (consisting of executive, House, and Senate leaders). During this time frame I will have the honor of testifying in the House and Senate committees that review the OAC budget – and we will not rest on the laurels of our current record high budget. Instead, we will again remind our elected officials what they already know: how the arts are advancing Ohio’s economy, creating jobs, improving learning outcomes through arts education, and revitalizing communities big and small. 

In the theme of transparency, it is also my responsibility to remind you that we are all responsible for educating and informing elected officials when it comes to policymaking in and for the arts. All year long, not just at budget time, we must use our authentic voices and stories of impact to educate policymakers about the return on investment that public funding for the arts through the OAC continues to bring to our state.

With all this in mind, it is more critical than ever that each of you take it upon yourselves to participate in the civic process, as Ohioans advocating for the arts. We know that your voices have always been the most authentic piece of the educational process underpinning our success. As our arts and cultural sector continues to evolve and change, this unity and engagement in support of one another’s shared missions – as artists, nonprofit arts agencies, teaching artists, and others – will ensure that the work of the Ohio Arts Council continues to be recognized by our elected leaders. With you, together, we will continue to deliver the message that support for the arts is a sound investment of public dollars that yields significant returns, and that the arts create jobs, improve our competitiveness, and anchor our communities. After all, we are the advocates and educators with the real stories to tell about Ohio’s extraordinary return on investment.
Until next time,

Donna S. Collins

Donna Collins signature

Executive Director

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