To the Editor:
You reported in last week's issue that the Greater Memphis Arts Council is the recipient of two arts-education grants (Cover Story, June 5th issue). No one here -- including myself, our vice president of finance, our vice president of development, our grant writer, and a financial consultant hired to advise the Center for Arts Education this past year -- has seen any official notification that we received a grant from the NEA or the Department of Commerce as you claimed. These grant awards were not included on any of the proposed fiscal year '04 revenue budgets that are submitted to the finance committee of our board for approval.
We called the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts on Thursday to obtain copies of any letters or news releases sent indicating that we were in receipt of either of the grants you discuss. An administrative assistant called back on Friday to say that Mimi Flaherty, senior director for education at Wolf Trap, would be out of the office for an indeterminate amount of time and that it would be impossible to send us that information.
It is misleading to imply that we are turning down money that we have not in fact been awarded. As you reported, we did sign the consortium agreement in early August for a Wolf Trap partnership grant -- this fact was never in dispute -- with all reasonable expectations that our Wolf Trap program would continue. In fact, we included Wolf Trap information in our promotional identity materials created last summer. By the end of the month (still August), indications were that Shelby County Head Start was most likely not going to renew their contract with us for Wolf Trap instruction in fall 2002. At that time, we tentatively decided to end the Wolf Trap program, pending official notification from Head Start. They did indeed decline to renew with us as expected, citing financial challenges, in a letter written Sept. 4, 2002.
Our responsibility to fund the city's core arts groups -- the original founding mission of this organization -- and our opportunity to fund arts-education programs depend quite literally on the amount of money we raise every year. Despite our own administrative budget cuts, we have allocated $500,000 of our upcoming fiscal year budget to continue bringing arts-education offerings to students.
I myself taught in the Memphis City Schools and would be the last to suggest that teachers don't matter. If we are being accused of being focused on the money, then that is absolutely correct. The Arts Council is a business that must run in a fiscally responsible manner.
Finally, for your reporter to say that "ticket subsidy looks great on paper" is a demeaning statement to make about a great program that provides children -- many of whom have never attended a live arts performance -- the chance to experience and enjoy artistic expression firsthand. We are grateful to the Tennessee Arts Commission for this funding and extremely proud to be able to continue administering the program for local schoolchildren.
President, Greater Memphis Arts Council
To the Editor:
All I could do was snort in disgust after reading Lawrence Jasud's letter to the editor and Chris Davis' cover story. I don't profess to know how the Arts Council manages or allots its budget each year. What I do know is that it is utterly absurd for Mr. Davis to paint the Arts Council out to be some kind of Cherokee Day Care with Susan Schadt as Willie Ann Madison, buying her staff Lincoln Navigators on the CAE's dime.
Are there questions that should be answered regarding the GMAC's cuts? Absolutely. Why don't we find out the facts first before we condemn the Arts Council, whose main purpose is to raise and solicit funds for the core nonprofit performing and visual arts organizations.
The only people hurting art in Memphis are Mr. Jasud and any media organization that fuels the fire. I applaud Martha Ellen Maxwell's letter to the editor and hope other arts organizations come forward and do the same. Anyone who discontinues giving money to the GMAC is cutting off the blood supply to the arts and the city.
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