As it faces choppy budget conditions ahead, Mesa sailed into a new business Friday night, inviting people to its new arts center for art gallery browsing, steel-drum music and brie-and-walnut quesadilla snacks in a subterranean courtyard.
The City Council will hold 13 1 /2 hours of budget hearings this week as sales-tax and utility earnings fall behind population growth and the needs of older sections of the city.
Add some philosophical differences about whether government should subsidize the arts at all, and you get a council that’s looking for the center to pay its own way.
Mayor Keno Hawker said he’s looking to the center to help revitalize downtown, and to be able to pay for itself, sooner rather than later.
"I’m not looking at it as a government amenity, like a park or library that has no cost, that everyone should utilize because it’s free," Hawker said.
The preliminary city budget for fiscal 2005-06, which will begin July 1, is $678.5 million, and for 2006-07 is $681 million.
The Mesa Arts Center cost $94 million to build, nearly all if it coming from a half-cent sales tax approved in 1998 to fund the arts, along with numerous other programs.
For the coming fiscal year, the center is projected to cost about $10 million to operate and make back $4.7 million in ticket sales, class fees and other revenue.
City arts and cultural director Gerry Fathauer said Friday that cost recovery for visual arts classes will go up to 64 percent from 50 percent in the next budget cycle, and for performing arts will inch up to 50 percent from 46 percent.
She said the department has scaled back in some areas to accommodate the city’s budget crunch, reducing the amount of outreach and education programs in its art gallery and altering the schedule of a city-funded, child-oriented performance group.
"Mesa Youtheatre will not do a musical this year, because musicals cost more than a straight drama," she said.
The $243,668 in arts funding to outside groups could be under particular scrutiny. That money is divided between nearly a dozen groups, but the grants are crucial for many.
Karen Ralston, artistic director of East Valley Children’s Theatre, said, "We’ve always used the money to help pay for performance facilities, and now our facilities rent is going to go up a little as we move into the new arts center."
City Councilman Tom Rawles, who opposes government spending on the arts, argues the city is already providing a subsidy for the groups by allowing them to rent the center’s theaters, which will open in September, at a reduced rate.
One of the many impressed onlookers at the arts center Friday night, Don Marquard of Mesa, said government subsidies are OK "within reason. We’d like to see it pay for itself, but those things are not always possible."
His friend, Gerry Tanner, whose wife is a first-grade teacher, said, "I’d support it, just like education."