MUNSTER | Despite funding cuts to art programs in public schools nationwide, the arts create economic development and revitalize entire communities.

That message about Creative Placemaking for the Arts echoed throughout a panel discussion Tuesday sponsored by the Indiana Arts Commission at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts moderated by Lewis Ricci, executive director of the commission.

Audrey II, the monstrous Venus flytrap from the theater’s current production of "Little Shop of Horrors," was a whimsical and appropriate backdrop for the talk about the state of the arts in Indiana and the United States.

Rocco Landesman, chairman of the Washington, D.C.–based National Endowment for the Arts, joined a group of central and southern Indiana art advocates for the discussion on stage at the Theatre at the Center.

The group toured artistic venues in South Bend earlier in the day. Members delivered the idea that support for the arts needs to come from three areas: nonprofits, for-profits and government.

Panelists included State Rep. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, who has sponsored several bills in the Indiana General Assembly, including the creation of a cultural district designation and recognition of Traditional Arts Indiana, Indiana Artisan and the Indiana Cultural Trust. His district includes Nashville and Brown County where art is “the fabric of the community and economic engine."

Joanna Beatty Taft is founding executive director of the Harrison Center for the Arts in the poorest neighborhoods in northern Indianapolis. She serves on several boards including Herron High School, a charter school with an art-centered curriculum the Harrison Center helped start. Taft represented nonprofits.

Brenda Myers, executive director of the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, has more than 25 years in tourism development, which fits into the for-profit category. Hamilton County includes such high-income communities as Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville.

When encouraged in a community, the arts “create a vibrancy, a buzz in a place,” Landesman said.

“We thought that people follow business, but business follows people. Arts change the ethos of a place,” he said. “The arts have a sustaining effect on an area.”

The economic downturn has affected the arts negatively and positively, the panelists said. While there may be less money, art-based organizations are offering more technical assistance, entrepreneurship training and product development, Taft said.

“In Hamilton County, we put a lot of effort into creating a destination,” Myers said.

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