Civic Theatre funding divides city council


By Karen Kennedy

The status of the expected annual gift from the City of Carmel to the Civic Theatre remains unclear after the Aug. 5 city council meeting. The arts fund disbursements have been in limbo for months due to concerns about specific income line items in the city’s budget. As it became clear that those concerns had been assuaged, it looked as though the total funds, including those separately allocated to the Carmel Symphony in the last council meeting, would finally be released.

However, Councilor Eric Seidensticker introduced further debate on the issue. He inquired as to the logic of gifting the Civic Theatre $200,000 when they, in turn, pay the CRC $200,000 toward earning the property rights of the theatre. Seidensticker said that he felt it was akin to loaning the Civic money without interest if they were essentially paying it back to the city through the CRC.

“I’m not saying we should not support them, I’m just asking why we’re moving money back and forth,” he said.

Councilor Luci Snyder also noted that Civic had originally agreed to an annual payment of $400,000, but had notified the city last year that that amount was unmanageable and that they could only pay half of it.

“I’m not saying I don’t like the Civic. I love the Civic. I think they do great work. But they changed their agreement with us midstream. What if we give them this gift and then they do that again?” she said.

Councilors Ron Carter and Rick Sharp both intervened, reminding the council that Civic chose Carmel.

“Don’t send a message that we don’t support the Civic,” Carter said.

Sharp also reminded the council that the Civic had been “blindsided” by support withdrawn from Indianapolis residents after their move, but agreed that the matter merited further consideration.

Despite the intercessions of Mayor Jim Brainard, Councilors Seidensticker, Carol Schleif, Sharp and Snyder voted for separating the Civic’s gift out for further discussion. Councilors Sue Finkam, Kevin “Woody” Rider and Carter voted against. All other arts funds monies were approved for disbursement.

In a conversation several days after the council meeting, Schleif said, “The Civic’s arrangement is with the CRC; it is their contract. I don’t even know why the issue of their funding is before the council. The CRC has a reserve fund and they should use it for this (Civic’s funding.) That money is earmarked for the arts. We are politicizing a process that should not be political.”

It should be clarified though, that the council did not vote to discontinue any funding for the Civic. They simply agreed that the method of distribution and the source from which the funding might come from in the future merited discussion.

Civic theatre’s Executive Director Cheri Dick declined to comment on the situation.