Nashville Will Restore The Arts Grants It Announced And Then Withdrew

Surplus funding of $3 million from Metro’s FY23 budget, on top of $2 million that was already promised, will be directed to Metro Arts to pay off a “mounting deficit” and fully fund grant commitments made to independent artists and arts organizations this year. 

“This should ensure that all artists and arts organizations publicly notified of awards for fiscal year 2024 have the opportunity to be funded according to the greater of either the July or August funding recommendations approved by the Metro Arts Commission,” Mayor Freddie O’Connell said during a Friday press conference. 

After months of questions over when and if promised funding for Nashville artists and arts organizations ever would be fulfilled, O’Connell released a letter and a subsequent memo from Metro Finance Director Kevin Crumbo to Metro councilmembers and Metro Arts commissioners and confirmed that funding will be distributed. 

The memo also included a direct criticism of Director Daniel Singh’s leadership. 

”The Administration has been assisting staff with its day-to-day operations on an ad hoc basis as its Executive Director has become absent in the last few weeks,” wrote Crumbo. “This is not sustainable for the obvious reasons, and the staff needs present and capable leadership.”

Metro Arts Commissioners delayed discussing Singh’s employment at a March 12 meeting, but the board has been concerned about the agency’s management. One commissioner told the Banner that they expect a motion to terminate Singh at the next meeting. 

Meanwhile, Singh has been looking for another job. He is scheduled to appear at a “meet the candidates” event on April 8 in Everett, Wash., where he applied for the role of chief DEI officer in the Snohomish County Office of Social Justice. 

Metro Arts’ grant cycle during the last year has been chaotic. Part of that process included promising independent artists historic levels of funding in July, before reversing that decision in August, cutting that funding in half, and restoring funding for arts organizations to traditional levels. But even that funding for arts organizations, which range from nonprofits as big as the Frist Art Museum to those with annual revenue of less than $25,000, has only been half fulfilled to date. 

Not only has the chaos resulted in artists and arts organizations missing out on funding, but Crumbo’s memo outlines how it has additionally resulted in a deficit in the Metro Arts department and multiple costly interdepartmental investigations.

“Adding these commitments to Metro Arts’ existing operating deficit outlook ensures a potential total deficit of a million dollars or more for this fiscal year, and considering the broader view of administrative costs connected to Metro Arts, it could cost the taxpayers millions more to pay the bills that are piling up,” Crumbo said in the memo.

He wrote that Metro Finance would take direct control of Metro Arts’ “books, records, procurements, and other financial affairs and assist its Commissioners and staff to establish financial operations that are in good order.” He explained that due to the “prevailing conditions,” Internal Audit has been unable to complete its review of Metro Arts, but that the information gathered so far has indicated a deficit of at least a “few hundred thousand dollars by the end of this fiscal year.”

Not only will all financial commitments made in both the July and the August funding formulas be fulfilled, Crumbo wrote that the Law Department has determined that Singh may have bound Metro Arts to additional commitments outside of those made in July and August, and that a process would be established to determine how artists and organizations with proof of those commitments could receive funding. 

WPLN reported on March 6 that Singh had not reported to work since Feb. 23, with Singh saying “The racist behavior of the Metro Government has affected my health.” At a subsequent meeting of the Metro Arts Commission on March 12, commissioners heard the results of an investigation conducted by outside counsel into allegations of workplace misconduct in Metro Arts. That investigation found the Metro Arts workplace in complete disarray, with Singh and his employees at constant odds with one another. It also found at least one instance of Singh breaking Metro workplace conduct policies by directing his staff not to communicate with other Metro departments. 

During that meeting, commissioners delayed discussing Singh’s employment so that he could work out leave-related issues with HR first. A meeting of the commission’s oversight committee was scheduled for March 18 to continue the discussion but was canceled due to its chair, Heather Lefkowitz, stepping down. A specially called Arts Commission meeting is scheduled for March 28. 

Aside from the financial and staffing issues, a report from the Metro Human Relations Commission found probable cause that there had been discriminatory action in the Arts Commission’s decision to reverse the July funding decision and instead go with the formula voted on in August. It plans to hold a public hearing on the matter, but a date has not yet been set. 

“A formal request will be made to the Metro Human Relations Commission to work closely with the Administration to address its concerns in a collaborative manner,” wrote Crumbo. “Specifically, working towards solutions that do not escalate threats of costly litigation, but rather, constructive consideration and solutions to its concerns.”

All of these issues come at a time when Metro Arts would typically be midway through its FY25 grant process, selecting applicants to receive grant funding. Crumbo requested that all funding commitments be put on pause until this situation is resolved. O’Connell said it is unclear what the future of arts funding will look like. 

“I know that as we have had preliminary department-by-department budget discussions, there are a couple of complicating factors,” O’Connell said. “One is that right now, there is an absence of leadership at Metro Arts with no clear date where we get back to that. So I would say I expect a delay in the funding cycle. But it is too soon to say what the funding amounts will be.”

Disclosure: Kevin Crumbo has donated to the Nashville Banner in the past. Financial supporters play no role in the Banner’s journalism.

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