Monday, December 01, 2008

Art loan program cancelled due to lack of participation

Well, it was a bad idea to begin with.

In my original post on the subject, "So wrong on so many levels" in June, 2007, I detailed how the program was supposed to work:

Under the new 'economic development' program, individuals who qualify can get a loan of between $500 and $2500 at an interest rate of 1% to purchase a piece of local art. The maximum amount that Key Bank will loan under this program is $25,000.

And why would Key Bank make such a program available? It's because they're going to get a $250,000 investment from the county in the form of a certificate of deposit...and they're only going to pay 1% interest for the CD.

So...instead of the County Treasurer, Wade Kapszukiewicz, getting the best rates for the county, he's agreeing to this investment which, according to his office, means that the county treasury will be out $7,881 (the difference between the going interest rate and the 1% that will be paid).

Then, in July, our local paper did its best to push the program, even quoting from my original post on the subject. I again detailed all the problems with the program, including the fact that it was NOT economic development.

One of the major points of my first blog on this was that the priorities of the County, in putting this program above everything else, were misplaced. They still are misplaced, in thinking that this program will spur any economic development. True economic development and growth don't come from an artificial market demand. And no government program can create a true demand for a product. But they can certainly spend your tax dollars in a failed effort to do so.

In March, I did some research on the program to find that only three people had even applied, and only one had been approved - but for a higher amount ($3,500) than what was originally stated as the maximum loan. I guess that was because no one else was qualifying. What I wrote at the time is still true:

Now, it seems to me that someone who can afford to spend $3,500 on a piece of art really doesn't need a low-interest loan financed by the county taxpayers to do so. And if someone was going to qualify for this particular loan, isn't it likely they'd qualify for a more conventional loan that you and I didn't have to subsidize?

So the program is being cancelled, since the term of the collateral, the $250,000 Certificate of Deposit, is over. This program was not successful by any definition of the word, but, according to today's paper, it wasn't a bad idea - just a bad economy.

"It's just a very tough time to sell art right now," (Commissioner Ben) Mr. Konop said. "There was just no purchasing going on in the art world."
Nevertheless, Mr. Konop said believes Art Assist was "definitely worthwhile" as an attempt at stimulating the market for local residents' artwork.

He attributed the low participation to a worsening economic picture - both regionally and nationwide - and to tighter bank lending practices that kept some prospective buyers from getting applications approved.

"Everyone is trying. There is no shortage of effort. It's just that selling the merchandise in this economy is very difficult," Mr. Konop said.

So the fact that Lucas County's economy is usually worse than the rest of the state, and that our major issues only started this year (not last year when the program was begun), are the problems. The myriad of failures of logic within the program itself, and that fact that it was NOT economic development, are not even remotely contemplated as a cause.

No - if we admit the problem was the program itself, it means we also must admit that the elected official who proposed it really has no clue about true economic development, or about Economics 101, or about supply and demand or that government spending does not equal economic development - and we certainly can't have that! A politician saying my idea was a bad one? Heaven forbid!

And "if only" they'd done better promotion, people would have participated:

The program also had no marketing budget, and for publicity it relied on flyers, media attention, and promotional visits to galleries by an unpaid county intern, he added.

Ah, yes, it was the marketing of the program...and, though it's not mentioned in the story, I'm sure this was somehow "all Bush's fault."

Then there is the tug at the heartstrings:

One program participant, Michelle Carlson, 26, said she found it helpful in allowing her, through monthly installments, to buy a $500 painting by local artist Michael Arrigo.

Ms. Carlson, who works as programs coordinator for the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, said it was by far the biggest art purchase that she has made.

"With limited finances, it's hard to just shell out a lot of cash," said Ms. Carlson, herself an artist of prints and handbound books. "It's actually up in my apartment as we speak. I get many comments on it."

Does anyone else find it slightly ironic that one of the three participants who couldn't afford art without a loan is actually a 'struggling artist' herself, and someone who works for a tax-payer funded program, the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo?

The Blade article does make one of the most important points, but waits until the very last paragraph to do so:

The commissioner said the Art Assist experiment also highlights the importance of local artists reaching out beyond Lucas County to sell their work.

As I wrote in July:

And then there was this quote:

"Some artists who have had trouble selling work in Mr. Zaleski’s galleries have traveled to Chicago and sold their pieces for double or triple the original price tag. When the artwork was on sale in Toledo, people seemed to place a lower value on it, he said."

Wow - your work doesn't sell well here, but it does sell well why are we subsidizing - with tax dollars - purchases here? (And don't say it's for the sales tax - the County's portion of the sales tax on $25,000 is only about $300.) Why aren't the artists traveling en masse to Chicago? And how smart is that, especially in an industry that doesn't rely upon location for success? Would any type of analysis of our local market have shown this as a factor?

Thanks for playing...

My only consolation is that the program is being cancelled. The County Treasurer has an obligation to seek out the most amount of interest income in the safest of investments. The County is laying off people because revenue sources are declining. Would the $7,880 that the County didn't get in interest because of this program have saved one of those jobs? Maybe not all of a position, but certainly part of it.

The County should never have embarked upon such a ridiculous idea, especially under the guise of 'stimulating the economy.' It was easy to predict how much of a failure it would be in accomplishing the stated goal - and now we, and Konop, know the truth, even if Konop refuses to admit it.


Roman said...

Perhaps we should put a wooden stake through the heart of this program, just to make sure it never returns. "Art" should be supported by private parties, not with public money of any sort!!

navyvet said...

Art....we hardly knew yee...

skeeter1107 said...

Well and end to the most "pet of pet projects."

I'm not sure if this program was a holdover from Ben's junior high student council days, but now he knows it doesn't work. But you know, dog gone it, he still feels good about the program and that's what really matters.

I think we should always look for the silver lining in these "cool county" projects of his. It was really tiny and didn't hurt us too badly. The real fear is that he will come up with something that can really damage the county.

So, my advice to Mr. Konop. Remember Ben, my advice is worth what you're paying for it, but here goes.

The next time you get some sort of idea regarding economic development, run your idea past people that might disagree with you. Find some adults that are running various small businesses around town and see what they think. You might be enlightened.

Remember, this isn't junior high student council where every idea is a great idea and there are no bad ideas. Being that this is real life stuff, be willing to listen to people and don't be offended when people use the word "no." To quote that great Italian philosopher, Vito Corleone, "it's not personal, it's business."

Tim Higgins said...


Perhaps our county commissioners were trying to pattern themselves after the De Medici family, long known for their patronage of the arts and for the skillful manipulation of the populace.

Fortunately for all of us however, they proved to be mostly unskilled in both regards.

skeeter1107 said...

Tim Higgins,

To add to it, one of the Medici's was a Pope. I think it was Cosimo or something like that.

Think about it, don't you get the sense that they enjoy casting blessings down upon us in a Pope like fashion. But since there can only be one Pope at a time, one of the Commissioners is the Pope and the other two are Bishops. I think Ben is probably a Bishop.

Mad Jack said...

The idea of supporting fine art has a noble, benevolent ring to it. It's intellectual, civilized, cerebral and high minded. Supporting fine art offends no one and provides much for many.

Or something.

If supporting fine art, or crude art or even mediocre art were a good monetary investment, fine art would likely appear on the commodities exchange.

Short of the reasons I listed above, why would anyone think that this was a good plan? Seriously now, why would this be beneficial to Lucas County?

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