AcA, JoDu unveil funding model for arts center

by Walter Pierce

The announcement represents a deeper commitment to the vital role the Acadiana Center for the Arts plays in Lafayette's cultural and economic life.

This artist's rendering shows the Acadiana Center for the Arts'
$10 million theater expansion facing Vermilion Street.

Acadiana Center for the Arts Executive Director Gerd Wuestemann and City-Parish President Joey Durel on Thursday unveiled a funding model for the AcA that will increase Lafayette Consolidated Government's commitment to the center while pulling the earmark from the general fund, shifting the funding source instead to cable television franchise fees. The announcement included a tour of the AcA's $10 million theater expansion scheduled to open this fall.

"I'll admit that when I came into office, I didn't get it," Durel told the gathering of civic and political leaders and media, referring to his early, unsuccessful attempts to cut external agencies - arts/culture providers as well as social service non-profits - from the budget. While some fiscally conservative members of the council have traditionally opposed funding such non-governmental agencies, there has always been enough support on the council to ensure a funding stream, although it was done in what Wuestemann rightfully characterized as a "cut and paste" approach with little apparent analysis of a particular NGO's needs or value to the community.

Under the new funding model proposed - the City-Parish Council must still approve the funding during budget hearings in August and September - the AcA will receive $515,000 from LCG. Of that sum, $160,000 is earmarked for distribution by the AcA staff to other arts and culture providers in Lafayette Parish in the form of grants; at least $70,000 will go to Festival International de Louisiane; and the remaining $285,000 will underwrite the AcA's operating expenses, which, projected over the current fiscal year, includes $190,000 for its LUS bill (electricity, fiber and phone service), $32,000 for building insurance and $31,000 for facility maintenance and repairs.

State-of-the-art arts centers are expensive to run and maintain. The AcA is a city-owned and -operated facility.

Durel pointed out that LCG budgets roughly $4 million annually for parks and recreation, and there is virtually no complaining from the community - green space and organized sports are widely considered beneficial, quality-of-life services. "This," he added, gesturing to the arts center surrounding him, "is parks and rec for another group of people."

"I believe that Lafayette has a responsibility to Acadiana," Durel said later. "The smaller cities could never afford this."

LCG announced a related funding shift last spring when it revealed that city-parish funding of social service agencies and arts/culture providers would be split, with social service funding being done on a competitive application process through the Community Development Department and arts/culture funding handled by the AcA. The AcA began a quarter century ago as the Acadiana Arts Council, and its primary function was to disperse state and local arts funding to arts and culture providers. But because under the new model announced in early June it would be awarding that LCG funding, it would be ineligible to draw from that revenue source; the AcA could not, in effect, be in charge of the purse from which it drew its funding. Thursday's announcement represents a new, separate line item for funding the AcA and Festival International.

In recent city-parish budgets, roughly $450,000 has been allocated for funding NGOs including the AcA, Festival International and social service agencies. In the current 2009-2010 budget the AcA got just more than $69,000, more than half of which was dispersed to area arts providers in the form of grants; only $34,000 was allocated for the facility's operating expenses. Durel said at the spring announcement that he wanted LCG's commitment to NGO funding to remain on the same level, so Thursday's announcement illustrates a much deeper commitment by LCG to the AcA - provided the council goes along with the funding formula. The arts center in October will celebrate the opening of a $10 million theater expansion. Durel has supported LCG funding of arts and culture providers for several years after it became evident that Lafayette's cultural events, especially its music festivals, bring in tourists, sales taxes and hotel occupancy taxes.

The new funding formulas announced in the spring and on Thursday must still be approved by the council. However, Thursday's Power Point presentation and tour helped convince District 8 Councilman Keith Patin that the investment is worth it. Patin joined Councilmen William Theriot (District 9) and Jared Bellard (District 5) in voting against NGO funding last September when the current budget was finalized.

"In the total scheme of things - a $560 million [LCG budget] - for all the possibilities that arise out of the $500,000 [funding commitment to the AcA], I think it's well worth the investment," Patin said following the presentation. Patin was among five councilmen at Thursday's presentation and tour; Don Bertrand (District 7), Sam Dore (District 6), Brandon Shelvin (District 3) and Theriot were also there.

Contacted via e-mail after Thursday's presentation, Theriot was circumspect: "The facility was very nice! I prefer not to respond to your other questions until we receive the new budget from the administration."