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Sunday, April 14, 2013
Taxpayers should be on guard. The term “economic development” can be code for government getting its hand into your wallet. An upcoming forum (May 8) to discuss the role of arts in economic development is being advertised and sponsored by The Roanoke Times and Cox Business.
When you hear claims about the economic potential of art or cultural projects, remember the real history demonstrating how false and silly the claims usually are. Remember that then-Explore Park Director Rupert Cutler promised the editorial board and readers that the park would draw more than 1 million visitors a year and create hundreds of jobs. Roanoke County and the state dumped millions of taxpayer dollars into that economic development claim.
Remember that many of the people running the Taubman Museum today paid a large sum of money to expert consultants to show — as then-President of the Board of Trustees Heywood Fralin proclaimed — that the museum would inject $30 million a year into the local economy and create nearly 500 jobs.
The Taubman Museum is a privately funded financial disaster that some people — including some members of Roanoke City Council — are willing to see become a taxpayer-supported financial disaster. It is a black hole of philanthropic funding that dwarfs and starves other art endeavors.
It was a financially stable, appropriately sized, small community museum before becoming a bloated-budget monument to an individual. Now, some politicians and so-called leaders perceive it as “too big to fail” and will channel taxpayer money to it under any guise, vehicle or vague title — like “arts endowment.”
The Roanoke Times has reported how arts organizations have struggled raising operating funds in the wake of the museum’s devouring close to $2 million a year in private funding for its annual operating costs. If a taxpayer-funded, government-run arts endowment is created to support — for the first time ever — ongoing operating costs of art and cultural programs, one of the primary reasons for doing so will be to overcome the museum’s drainage of private funding sources.
The government-run endowment will be — if not direct, then de facto — taxpayer funding for the operation of the Taubman. This is a truth arts endowment supporters will likely avoid telling taxpayers. (“Roanoke officials mull arts, cultural groups endowment,” March 19 news story).
Taxpayers have been sold an arts and economic development bill of goods before. Can the “experts” and “leaders” with their meretricious economic development claims ever be believed again? Are taxpayers foolish enough to let them into their wallets again?
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