Published at The Journal Gazette

Arts Advocacy Week is March 1-5, 2021 at the Statehouse. We are taking this opportunity to co-author this open letter to let Northeast Indiana’s state Senators and Representatives know that representatives of Indiana Arts Advocates are asking them to maintain funding for the Indiana Arts Commission at $4 million in the next biennial budget. 

As leaders of Arts United, Greater Fort Wayne, Inc., the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, and the Downtown Improvement District, we appreciate their advocacy efforts because we know how important arts, culture, and quality of life is to all 92 counties of the Hoosier state and the 11 counties of Northeast Indiana. 

State revenues have taken a hit which will necessitate prudent belt-tightening coupled with smart investments to aid in the recovery of jobs, our economy, and our quality of life. We are confident that the leaders of our state delegation will continue to put their support behind initiatives that strengthen the communities of our region. Maintaining funding for the Indiana Arts Commission, a high-quality state arts agency that is considered a leader in the nation, in the biennial budget is one of the easiest and least controversial ways to do just that. We’d like to share a few facts to inform your decision on this issue.

Fact 1: By supporting arts and culture, you support jobs. 

Statewide, there are more than 160,000 creative sector jobs– about as many as transportation jobs. In Northeast Indiana, there are more than 18,800 creative sector jobs – about as many as finance and insurance jobs. Our official count doesn’t include employers like Sweetwater and Vera Bradley which fall into a different industry classification but certainly depend on creatives to design and sell their products. 

Sustained funding through the Indiana Arts Commission will help the creative workforce recover following a bruising year of closed venues and cancelled events. About 60% of Indiana’s creative sector jobs are self-employed members of the “gig” economy. Nationwide, 63% of self-employed creatives have become fully unemployed, and we see similar trends in Northeast Indiana. Statewide, 30% of jobs at nonprofit theatres, museums, dance studios, choirs, orchestras, and other employers were lost during the pandemic. This sector needs your support to recover.

Fact 2: By supporting arts and culture, you support our economy. 

In 2019, the largest 18 arts and culture nonprofits headquartered in Allen County reached an audience of 905,000 attendees and stimulated nearly $50 million in economic impact according to data provided by Arts United and Americans for the Arts. The average attendee of an arts or cultural event spends $31.47 per person, per event, not including the cost of admission on meals, transportation, lodging, retail, or childcare – discretionary spending that stays local. 41% of attendees say that if the arts event they are attending were not taking place, they would have traveled to a similar community to attend a similar event – taking those dollars out of the community. 

Sustained funding through the Indiana Arts Commission ensures that everyone can benefit from the arts in Northeast Indiana. The Indiana Arts Commission funds nearly all of Northeast Indiana’s most prominent arts and culture nonprofits as well as a variety of arts education programs, programs for people with physical and intellectual disabilities, programs that share the cultural diversity of our communities, and regional public art initiatives like the Decatur Sculpture Tour and the Make It Your Own Mural Fest. In fact, the IAC awarded $392,737 to 53 organizations and programs in our 11-county region in 2019 and $342,686 to 45 organizations and programs in 2020. 

Fact 3: By supporting arts and culture, you support a vibrant quality of life that attracts and retains talent and business investment.

Smart investments in the quality of life of our region over the last 12 years are paying dividends. We have reversed the population decline that dogged us for more than 20 years. New businesses and higher-wage jobs are the result of Northeast Indiana becoming a place of choice to live, work, and play. In a recent survey by Greater Fort Wayne, Inc., 90% of businesses indicated that downtown Fort Wayne’s revitalization has a strong impact on talent attraction and retention – the #1 community attribute cited by businesses – and the strength and diversity of arts and culture has contributed mightily to the success of downtown. In the same survey 79% of businesses said that arts and culture has a strong impact on their ability to attract and retain talent. In spite of the pandemic, Allen County is becoming one of the fastest-growing communities in the Great Lakes region.  U-Haul recently ranked Fort Wayne as one of the top 25 cities in the United States for in-bound migration. 

Sustained funding through the Indiana Arts Commission will support the people and activities that will reignite downtown Fort Wayne and main streets throughout all of Northeast Indiana in 2021.  These dollars fuel our “swagger” as we claim our place as a nationally recognized economy and destination for talent and business investment.

As the pandemic ends later this year, Northeast Indiana will continue to compete in the nationwide battle for talent and business investment. American communities that retain their quality of life and a unifying sense of cultural identity will be well equipped to surge forward, rebuilding their local economies and supporting the recovery of residents. 

This is a smart investment in Northeast Indiana’s jobs and economy, and that matters to your constituents.


Dave Haist, Member, Indiana Arts Advocates; Chair, Parkview Health; Retired COO, Do it Best Corp.
Michael Galbraith, President & CEO, Downtown Improvement District
Susan Mendenhall, President, Arts United
John Sampson, President & CEO, Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership
Nancy Stewart, Member, Indiana Arts Advocates; Past Chair, Indiana Arts Commission
John Urbahns, President & CEO, Greater Fort Wayne, Inc.