Law Of Unintended Consequences Stymies Arts Groups


In 1692, the English philosopher John Locke – whose political philosophy inspired Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence – first suggested the concept of “unintended consequences” when he argued against a parliamentary bill cutting the maximum interest rate because it would actually reduce the availability of credit, thereby hurting the very borrowers the bill was intended to help.

That concept has since been elevated informally to a “law” by its application to a wide variety of circumstances, especially economics (including “Freakonomics”).  And a story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate demonstrates how it appears to have adversely affected our City’s cultural arts community: “Arts fundraiser fails to stick with Park Ridge residents” (May 20).

When the City Council, at the behest of Mayor Dave Schmidt, finally said “enough” to the various private “community groups” that had developed an entitlement mentality towards the public funding they had grown accustomed to receiving from the City, then-city manager Jim Hock and a few aldermen tried to throw a sop to the cultural arts crowd with the institution of a special $10 “arts” sticker that could be purchased along with a City vehicle sticker and would benefit six local cultural arts groups.

But after just one sale – in the Spring of 2011 – the initiative was dropped because too few residents purchased those stickers to justify their cost and the City manpower to process those sales.  And, not surprisingly, the intended beneficiaries of that effort are now beefing about its failure, while also seeming to take a backhanded slap at the mayor and the Council for cutting their funding.

According to the H-A article, Cultural Arts Council member Diddy Blyth called the sticker program a “political move” that actually “diffused and incinerated” an incipient effort by the six cultural arts groups at working together on larger-scale fundraising.  And the article reports that those groups have not met together since.

Can you say: “Why should we actually work at fund-raising when we can once again feed at the public trough”?   Apparently those cultural arts groups can.

Brickton Art Center received a shade over $2,200 through sticker sales, nowhere close to the $11,000 it was going to receive in FY2010-11 before Schmidt’s veto was sustained by the Council.  And according to Brickton Executive Director Alyssa Kulak, Brickton is compensating for the failure of the sticker initiative by “seeking out different grants” and “cutting back on expenses.”

We suggest Brickton and these other cultural arts groups take a lesson from those old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movies, where a group of enthusiastic folks would signal their fundraiser of choice with the now-iconic exclamation: “Let’s put on a show!”

If Park Ridge residents truly support the arts – as the cultural arts folks insisted every time they sought City funding – these cultural arts groups should figure out a way to have those residents show it.  With cash. 

How about talking to the owners of the Pickwick, the City’s crown jewel venue, about hosting a gala event?  Or the old reliable Park Ridge Country Club, if the Pickwick won’t work?  Charge a C-note per ticket, serve champagne and some of those “heavy” hors d’oeuvres (we’re partial to super-colossal U12-count shrimp that look like they kicked a lobster’s butt just for the privilege of being on the tray) and feature some notable entertainment that will make the event the place to be in Park Ridge on that particular night.

If that doesn’t raise the kind of money these groups need, maybe it’s time for them to re-think their roles in this community.

And maybe it’s time for the Council to learn yet another lesson about the unintended consequences of City government sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong while trying to funnel public monies into private entities and activities.

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11 comments so far

Funding cuts to the arts are not unique to Park Ridge. Arts programs everywhere have taken a huge hit. And arts programs — just about everywhere except Park Ridge, it seems — have had to step up their fundraising efforts. I volunteered on the fundraising committee for a small dance company and it was a year-round, near full-time effort that required a lot of hustle. But the company’s principals were committed to their art and education initiatives and their determination is what kept us going.

Park Ridge, in some ways, is in a better position than a small dance company in Chicago, which has fight for its share of patrons, because residents are likely to support local groups.

Other than Brickton, I don’t even know which six local arts groups were part of this initiative. No publicity ever crossed my path. I do have to give credit to Brickton, however. As far as I can tell, they do little fundraisers, like student art shows, on an ongoing basis. But I’m sure it’s not enough to make a big impact on their operating expenses, so a bigger gala type event that might net them more in one fell swoop is a good idea.

The most visible (at least to me) cultural arts program in Park Ridge is the Hodges Park concerts. If I were running one of the other cultural arts groups, I would have a table/booth/tent out there for every concert selling or raffling something. The mayor raised $1,000 for some cultural arts group just selling hamburgers and hotdogs at one concert last summer, so it can be done. And you have an audience of people who presumably are supporters of the arts, otherwise they would not be there.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That sounds like a good idea to us. But that would require a lot more effort than putting the arm on a few aldermen, or beefing about not getting City funding.

Bnonymous 9:56 am:

And unfortunately many of the people who attend the Hodges Park concerts may not know that the concerts require fundraising in order to pay for the them. And speaking of fundraising for the concerts/Park Ridge Fine Arts Society, I attended their November fundraiser at the Country Club – I would say it was ho-hum, and I worry that the PRFAS is not gearing fundraising efforts toward younger families that need to realize that their kids will not be able to run around on Courtland on Friday nights in the summer without private support. These cultural groups need to realize that the fundraising events that attracted private support 20-30 years ago don’t draw much interest today. Generation Xers and Millennials are not that interested in sit-down black-tied affairs at the Country Club…

EDITOR’S NOTE: Then let the PRFAS bring in Lil Wayne or Taylor Swift (or LW/TS “tribute” impersonators) for a “Good Kush & Alcohol” cocktail (and whatever) reception, or a “Red Night District” after-hours party for the GXers and Mils.

the park and city hall property is owned by the public so flipping burgers there carries no ruinous (i.e. commercial rate) facility cost as indoor fundraisers do. If the mayor had had to pay $2K – $4.5K to use the space, the tally would not have been so happy. That’s the dirty little secret of fundraising in Park Ridge, with very few exceptions. The public good that doesn’t attract BIG money is, de facto, invisible. this works for you, but not for all.

EDITOR’S NOTE: But you can charge a lot more for an indoor event than you can for an outdoor burger or mutt. Nothing’s preventing those organizations from setting up their own burger, brat, souvlaki, or fruit pie stands for the 6 or so concert nights each summer.

My name is Alyssa Kulak-Harris and I have worked at the Brickton Art Center since 2001 taking on the role of Executive Director in 2005. I feel as if in your latest blog entry you have unfairly portrayed our organization in a negative light.

In the years 2005-2010, I, as Executive Director, received a letter each year from the City of Park Ridge stating, “Your organization may be eligible to receive a grant from the City of Park Ridge.” I would then work to put together the application and required materials before the deadline and attend Council meetings where there was an opportunity to answer any questions Council members may have had about the application–– just as I do for the other grants, such as with the Illinois Arts Council, that we apply for and receive year after year. When I was notified that the funding was cut for community group grants I was certainly disappointed but also understood the economic climate at the time. This was not the first grant that we had formerly received that had been either significantly decreased or completely slashed. The fact is I, and I am speaking for our whole organization, have never felt “entitled” to money that was presented to us as a grant opportunity and I am insulted that you would categorize us as “freeloaders.” Furthermore, we have never made public comments complaining about the loss of the City of PR grants or about the reality that as a nonprofit we need to fund-raise.

This should clarify why in the recent Herald-Advocate article (that I was approached to give a quote for) I stated that one of our solutions was to “seek out more grant opportunities.” The City of Park Ridge grant opportunity was no longer available so we focused our efforts on cutting expenses and continued our attempts at seeking out different grants from foundations and other corporations. I’m not sure how much experience you have in grant writing but it takes a lot more effort that simply “sticking out your hand.”

In fact, in 2011 we received a $10,000 grant award from the Chicago Sun-Times Sunshine Fund. This award was based partly on our application but mostly on our supporters participating in an online voting campaign. What a great way for us to have Park Ridge residents show their support for the arts…without asking them for cash!

As for this idea of the cultural arts groups coming together to host a gala, this option was considered by all of us but at the end of the discussions it seemed like a waste of time and resources considering each group does their own fundraising events throughout the year (some of these groups already host annual dinner-dance type events at the PR Country Club.) Basically, each group would be inviting the same supporters and members, asking the same pool of volunteers and the same businesses to donate to the silent auction or raffle. This town is over-saturated with these types of events. Plus, wouldn’t someone who supports say, the PR Civic Orchestra, rather just cut them a check for $100 instead of attending the joint gala only to have that $100 split 6 ways? These are not excuses; these are facts. Facts based on many years of experience coordinating and attending fundraising events in Park Ridge.

I am happy to report that Brickton is currently thriving; however, I don’t base our role in this town on how much cash people give us or if they buy a sticker to put on their windshield. I base our value to this town on the demand for our classes; on the amount of people who come to appreciate the arts at our free, open to the public gallery; and, on the lives we change through our art therapy programs. The arts are vital to a strong and healthy community—in times like these more than ever. You and all who read this blog should come by and take a look at the current exhibit, Photovoice, sponsored by MCYAF. I was so moved to see the artwork of Maine East, Maine West, and Maine South students who were posed the question, “What is your anti-drug?” The students were asked to respond to the question through photography and you would be amazed how many of the responses were about using their own creativity and art to stay on the right path.

Maybe these students and their parents will take a class at Brickton, become members or even hand us cash, maybe they won’t. Either way we will continue to do what it takes (write grants, fund-raise, cut expenses) to stay in and serve the people in this community.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you for your comment, Ms. Kulak-Harris. We are happy to hear that your organization is “currently thriving” and we hope that continues – albeit with private funds rather than public ones. And if you can do that without traditional fundraisers, more power to you.

We must point out, however, that we did not use the word “freeloaders” in this post. We also must take issue with your reference to the money your organization received from the City as “the City of PR grants” – at least to the extent that such a reference suggests that getting the City money involved a process of “grant writing” that “takes a lot more effort that simply ‘sticking out your hand’.” The process of getting money from the City under Council Policy No. 6 was a joke, bearing no similarity whatsoever to the grant applications to which you allude.

Your definition from a previous post– “freeloaders”: “people and organizations looking for some kind of free or discount ride at the expense of Park Ridge taxpayers.”

And you are wrong about the City of Park Ridge grant application. It did in fact bear many similarities to the other grant applications to which I alluded.

Hope to see you at Brickton sometime soon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If the definition fits….

Feel free to send us your last City “grant” application, which presumably is on a City form that identifies all the required information.

Count on it.

PWD- Going back to an old post about the flood…I asked what flood cleanup bill would be from ARC disposal. Well the answer is 76k billed to the taxpayers:

The point is, the taxpayers need to understand true cost to homeowners and taxpayers for failure of sewers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The taxpayers absolutely should understand the true cost for the failure AND THE INADEQUACY of sewers, as well as overland flooding.

Maybe the City needs to consider billing residents for extraordinary refuse/debris pick-up so as to allocate those costs more directly to the actual users.

Your previous post regarding the Historical Society’s “request” for free rent and free build out of Solomon Cottage at the Youth Campus made me think of some alternatives. Why doesn’t the HS use their collections for displays in places like the library, the Non Profit Center and the Ianelli Studios? Those are places that see a fair amount of traffic and I would think give better exposure to the collections than having them stuck in a building that is a “destination” location that’s only open one day a week.

Just a thought.

The HS has a lot more stuff than what could fit into the libraries display case. However I wouldn’t support the idea of having them stay somewhere for free.

It’s also kind of funny how they were forced to leave the Prarie Ave. local when it’s still standing there vacant.

the Historical Society left the Prairie Ave. house because the private-sector owner wanted more money than the PRHS could pay or wanted to pay. Which doesn’t mean the taxpayers are the next place to look for a low-cost/no-cost headquarters. To be fair, the PRHS was willing to pay good money to do some of the interior revamping of the Solomon Cottage but only if the Park District gave it a nominal/nearly free lease for 50 years. Since the Park District just climbed out of a similiar sinkhole with the Senior Center, they naturally said they would not virtually give away any more valuable public property to a private non-profit with few or no strings. Duh. Any voter who wants the Park District to stand strong on this needs to write, call or otherwise speak up at meetings. The board and staff has gone through three-plus years of abuse by special interests and it would be nice to let the board know the public has their back.

EDITOR’s NOTE: We always thought it was the Park Board (and the City Council, and the school boards) that was supposed to have the taxpayers’ back, not the other way around.

The good public bodies do have the taxpayers’ backs, and you know it. But this here is a democracy and if the taxpayers aren’t happy with the elected officials, the latter are toast. That could have a dampening effect on a public official who sincerely wants to stick around and do more good. Martyrs are dramatic but not particularly useful. So if taxpayers think elected officials are doing the right thing, the back-having should be mutual, I’m sure.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the cesspool of government known as Illinois, you can probably count “[t]he good public bodies” on one hand – yet, as we’ve seen, too many voters have become color-blind and tone-deaf to stupidity, profligacy and corruption.

And any public official that acts (or doesn’t) out of a desire “to stick around and do more good” doesn’t deserve the office he/she holds.

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