Residents decry proposed budget cuts targeting arts

Dalia Naamani-Goldman

Eighteen residents spoke out against proposed budget cuts Monday night at an Evanston City Council forum, with many singling out arts reductions.

Michelle Brodsky, the transitional co-chair of the Evanston Arts Council, said budget changes to some arts programs would have a heavy impact.

“These funds are seeds planted and flourishing in Evanston,” Brodsky said. “The arts are the heart of Evanston, (and) the funds are returned to the community many folds and in many ways.”

The state-mandated public hearing gave residents a forum to voice concerns about the budget as the council attempts to overcome a projected $3.5 million deficit in the 2003-04 city budget. The aldermen have until Feb. 28 to make changes to City Manager Roger Crum’s balanced budget proposal and adopt a plan.

One of the budget proposal’s most significant impacts on the arts community would be proposed rent increases for tenants at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St. In exchange for the elimination of community service requirements in their contracts, the organizations housed there would pay more for use of the center’s space.

The proposal is estimated to increase revenue for the city by $32,200.

Jack Perman, a tenant at the arts center, said he has taught art classes at the Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave., to fulfill the community service requirement.

“I take pride in watching these seniors develop artistically,” he said.

Perman said he is concerned about the rent increase but predicted that the proposal would negatively impact those who benefit from the community service.

“Some (seniors) already have difficulty paying” for the classes, he said.

Ken Arlen, who heads an orchestra and jazz band, also has a studio at the arts center.

“The community service makes the building unique,” Arlen told the aldermen.

The Actors Gymnasium, which is also housed at the arts center, provides acting experience for children and teenagers throughout the city.

“Community service is part of (the program’s) essence,” said Tony Adler, the group’s co-founder. “Without community service requirements, the result will be reductions in programs and assistance for those who need it the most.”

Other residents spoke in support of the Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center, which faces the loss of its program manager. The position currently is vacant, but several residents said it is necessary for the center to function.

Allen Price, who said he has volunteered at Fleetwood for 50 years, said part-time employees wouldn’t work as well as a full-time manager.

“You must understand the product we work with,” he said. “And if you don’t understand that, you don’t understand Evanston.”

Eliminating the position would save the city $24,388, according to Crum’s proposal.

Dudley Brown, president of Fellowship of Afro-American Men, a youth recreation program at Fleetwood, has volunteered there for 25 years. He said his program serves a diverse group of children who would not have a program manager at the center.

“We’re not just talking about basketball,” he said. “We’re talking about life changing experiences at FAAM.”

Don Colleton, who volunteers at Fleetwood, said many of the center’s youth programs are life-changing for their participants.

“In an attempt to be fiscally responsible, in the short- and long-run, it’s the wrong policy,” Colleton said. “(This) signals lack of support for community participation.”

The South Branch Library, which would be closed in Crum’s proposal, also attracted dissent.

John Sagan, president of the Library Board, said it would be a mistake to disregard the impact the branch has on the community.

“Branch libraries may be relatively rare in communities of our size, but Evanston is a rare community,” Sagan said.

Both the south and north branches were slated for closure last year, but aldermen eliminated those cuts after residents protested them at budget meetings.

The council will discuss the proposed cuts further at a budget workshop scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.