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Guest Editorial: Save Covington Arts from Budget Cuts

The City of Covington is currently working on its 2014-15 budget and multiple positions in the community development department are slated to become part-time under one proposal, including the position of Covington Arts director. Though the budget process is still underway and nothing has been decided, there is growing concern among supporters of the arts in Covington that a reduction in staff in the department could hurt any progress or momentum developed in that area. The following is a guest editorial by Helentown resident Laura Knight and was originally sent to leaders at Covington City Hall.

Dear Commissioners, Mayor and City Managers:

It has come to my attention that the City of Covington is currently facing significant budget cuts that will negatively impact the thriving arts and cultural initiative, Covington Arts. This email is to show that I support Covington Arts as a stakeholder in the Covington Arts community. I am both a resident and an employee of a creative company located in Covington.  My husband, David Knight, Gallery and Exhibition Director at Northern Kentucky University; and I have poured countless hours of volunteer time and energy into the growth of the arts in Covington and we have been there from the beginning when Mary Lyons was appointed to the helm.  With the support of the city, our volunteerism has been compounded and has had a much greater effect than we would have by ourselves.

The city via the Arts Director position fully supported David and I in our grant writing, fundraising, execution and completion of the Helentown Artworks Mural in 2011.  Throughout the process, we were continually told that if Covington did not support the arts, that none of the Artworks murals would have been located in Covington.  It is easy to dismiss the arts as fluffy feel-good quality of life issue, but the arts have real economic impact in our city.  One of the reasons my employer located to Covington is because of the strong arts support and community, and I know there are many other businesses who have located here as a result of the commitment to the arts. Additionally, the addition of the Helentown Artworks mural has positively transformed the Helentown neighborhood in a way that no other program could have done from a property value standpoint, community investment standpoint and marketing standpoint.  Through the years, there are many other murals that have contributed to positively as well and I am sure would not have happened without a strong city arts strategy.

I am aware that the Covington Arts initiative and the position of the Arts Director currently reside under the City of Covington’s department of Economic Development and last week it was brought to the attention of the ED staff that $618,000 must be cut from its budget.  It seems, after reviewing various scenarios, management determined the best course of action was to move five program oriented full-time positions to part-time, including the position of Arts Director of Covington Arts, and not replace two recently terminated employees.

The role of Arts Director requires time commitments far exceeding the traditional 40 hour work week. As, the wife of a gallery director, I know first-hand the sacrifices of working more than a 40 hour work week that are common to achieve the phenomenal exhibits and events the city has become accustomed to. If this change is made, I have no doubt that Cate Yellig will need to resign from the position and I am certain the city will see a decrease in the quality of programming that it has become known for in recent years.  Even if someone else takes the role as Arts Director as a part time employee, the quality of programming and success of the city arts strategy will suffer.

Strategic Concerns about how these changes will impact the arts and community:

1. Without the full support of the City, Covington’s state-level cultural district certification will be affected as we will not be in compliance with the requirements of the Kentucky Arts Council’s program. Not only will this be a huge setback for the City, it will negatively impact all of the arts and cultural institutions (i.e. The Baker Hunt, Behringer-Crawford Museum, The Carnegie, and Kentucky Symphony Orchestra) with a loss of visibility and potential collaborative partnership opportunities with the Kentucky Arts Council.

2. CoSign, the creative place-making competition is currently underway. With the Arts Director position unfilled or at part-time status, the project will lose its point of contact or have a greatly reduced point of contact with the City and its collaboration with the American Sign Museum and the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Foundation which will bring $200K worth of investment to the businesses along the Madison Corridor in Covington.

3. During a time in which the certainty of the Covington Arts Center is in question, there will not be a boots-on-the-ground advocate to find a new location for the venue if the impending sale of the building goes through. The result will be the loss of eight exhibitions planned through 2015.

What Covington Arts Brings to the City:

·        Is an initiative representing all of the arts and cultural organizations in the City

·        Supports an arts and cultural industry with a collective operating budget of $7.2 million

·        Attracts 2.1 million people to the city annually

·        Total industry impact is $52 million in expenditures

·        Supports 1354 FTE jobs

·        Generates $2.4 million in local government revenue

(statistics generated from the arts and economic prosperity calendar)

Covington Arts accomplishments during 2013:

1. Achieved approximately 500,000 social media impressions, sent 82 press releases and 372,350 individual emails; managed a contact list of approximately 7,200 opt-in emails.

2. Creation of 14 new public art murals bringing a total of $163,000 of community investment, including two new ArtWorks Murals (Kerry Toyota Collision Center & Licking River Greenway) and youth employment summer programs, 10 London Police murals, hosted by BLDG, in various locations throughout downtown and the ‘Lov the Cov’ mural (on MKSK’s building) sponsored by Art Off Pike.

3. Covington Arts Center hosted 76 events: achieved overall attendance of 6,866 people

4. Built and launched new Covington Arts website, www.covingtonarts.com.

5. Doubled Full Spectrum’s (City Fall arts and cultural celebration of the arts) attendance and audience with overall attendance reaching approximately 111,100 for 18 events.

6. Launched new brand identity: activation via full Spectrum, website and new signage for Covington Arts Center. The new identity was provided by NKU professor Hans Schellhas and student Brandon Wells over the course of three years, a total investment of $8,000 for in-kind worth of approximately $80,000.

7. New relationships established with City Beat, Cov200 Bicentennial Committee, Cincinnati Art Museum, Fotofocus, Weston Art Gallery, Aeqai, Small Business Development Council, Haile Foundation and CoSign, Middle Coast LLC, Cork ‘n Bottle, UpTech, Platform53, Ezone, BLDG, Ulhmer and Berne and others.

8. Significantly grew social media presence introducing Twitter and doubling likes from 600 to 1367 on Covington Arts Facebook page.

I understand the city is in the midst of budgetary concerns and crisis, and it is even possible that some of you may think the city throws away money on the arts, but the social and economic return on this investment is many times multiplied. 

I implore you to support the Covington Arts and keep the momentum rolling and keep the arts director position fully funded and staffed at a full time so the city can continue to enjoy the benefits of the arts more fully in 2014 than in 2013 and see continued economic growth in 2015.  If this position goes unfilled or understaffed, the momentum will be lost and in many instances Covington arts will be starting from square one.  We have built up too much to see the city support waiver.

Laura Knight

Photo: Inside Covington Arts/RCN file