Some Rockford aldermen have opposed multi-year arts funding

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ROCKFORD — A three-year deal that will provide the Rockford Area Arts Council with $75,000 a year and a rent-free lease of the Shumway Building has divided the city council mostly along party lines.

Aldus. Chad Tuneberg, R-3, said Republican aldermen weren’t opposed to arts funding. But they wanted to demand that the Arts Council return to City Council every year for renewal.

Tuneberg argued that with economic uncertainty, high inflation and a looming pension crisis, the city must scrutinize financial deals “with a fine-toothed comb.” He opposed a multi-year agreement.

“It’s not a big amount, but the city is definitely under financial strain and with the economic environment looming right now, we need to take a very close look at our taxpayers’ money,” Tuneberg said. .

Public art:Rockford Area Arts Council grant will fund new public art

An amendment introduced by Tuneberg that would have required the city council to renew funding every year was defeated in a 9-3 vote on Monday. The three aldermen who opposed a multi-year deal were Republicans, including Tuneberg, Tim Durkee, R-1 and Frank Beach, R-10.

After the amendment was defeated, the three-year funding deal was finally approved unanimously by a 12-0 vote, including the three aldermen who initially opposed a multi-year deal.

Aldus. Mark Bonne, D-14, said the amendment would have gutted the agreement and “left it like an empty shell.”

“The reason for doing all of this is that the arts are economic development,” Bonne said.

Mayor Tom McNamara, whose sister Mary McNamara Bernsten is executive director of the Arts Council, backed the three-year deal. He said it will strengthen the arts organization’s ability to win grant funds that support culture in Rockford and the region.

McNamara said the Arts Council — a regional arts and culture umbrella organization that serves a four-county region — has been particularly successful in recent years. He noted that he had won a $150,000 federal grant to commission and install new permanent public art in underserved neighborhoods in Rockford.

“Giving them a better opportunity to get multi-year grants is really what this proposal is all about,” McNamara said. “It shows they have a three-year commitment and will be there.”

Aldus. Kevin Frost, R-4, broke with fellow Republicans in support of the multi-year deal. Frost, whose wife, Lisa Frost, and daughter, Libbie Frost, are artists, said the city supports the arts as an engine for cultural and economic development.

Frost said the city would have approved annual Arts Council funding every year, even without a multi-year agreement. And he agreed that the three-year commitment strengthens the organization’s ability to land larger grants that benefit Rockford.

He also noted that the deal includes an escape hatch. If financial circumstances worsen, the city may terminate the agreement and provide less or even no funding.

“They work with our school systems to encourage young people and promote and educate them about the arts, they present Art Scene twice a year,” Frost said. “So they’re doing great things for our community and I have no problem with that. It’s a token amount of money.”

Jeff Kolkey: (815) 987-1374; [email protected]; @jeffkolkey

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