Carmel city councilor ‘inclined to want to slash funding’ for Center for the Performing Arts over COVID policies 

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Carmel City Councilor Laura Campbell is not a fan of the Center for the Performing Arts’ requirement that all patrons show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test to attend shows.

Campbell, who is chair of the Hamilton County Republican Party, expressed her displeasure with the policy in an email sent Sept. 22, 2021, in response to Jeff McDermott, CPA president and CEO, who had written to city councilors to express support for a proposal to increase funding for the arts in the 2022 budget.

“The arrogance of the arts community in the belief that precious medical testing should be used in order to attend a performance makes me inclined to want to slash funding for the CPA and let them figure out if the new protocols will allow enough support from the community for them to become less dependent on the city taxpayer trough,” Campbell stated in the email, in which she also wrote that she did not have a problem with the mask requirement.

Two months later, she posted on social media about her support of artists and venues “who haven’t gone overboard on Covid restrictions” with the hashtag #novaxxpassrequired.

Campbell, who said she is vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, said that she’s a longtime supporter of the arts in Carmel but that she believes “proof of vaccination is an overreach” and that requiring a negative test to attend a show leaves fewer tests available for those who truly need them.

“(The CPA has) made the policies that they feel is best to protect their patrons. That’s their choice. I truly believe that businesses and corporations can make the best decisions for their employees, whether it’s requiring vaccinations or whatever protocols they put in place. That’s their freedom,” Campbell said Jan. 5. “I also have the freedom to go to a venue that doesn’t require proof of vaccination. I think that (the vaccine requirement) gives people a false sense of security.”

In a Jan. 10 email to Current, McDermott said the CPA booked the entire season of Center Presents performances expecting to be able to conduct it without restrictions but that the delta variant led to many artists requiring performance venues implement certain safety protocols. He said the CPA’s protocols are similar to most other venues in the nation.

He said that the CPA has been asked to issue refunds to approximately 3 percent of ticket purchasers since announcing the safety measures but that not all refunds have been related to the protocols.

McDermott said some patrons have purchased tickets because the CPA implemented the restrictions.

“We are not able to track patrons who have been prompted to purchase tickets specifically because we have put these measures in place, as we do not ask for that information when we issue tickets,” McDermott stated Jan. 10. “However, we have heard from many patrons that but for these measures they would not attend concerts at our venues at this time.”

He also said he has been pleased with audience sizes and that the CPA has had several sold out shows this season.

With the omicron variant leading to another COVID-19 surge and tests becoming more difficult to find, McDermott said that CPA officials are “continuously monitoring” information from various sources to determine if protocols should change.

“At this time the vast majority of our patrons come to our venues with proof of vaccination rather than a negative test,” McDermott stated. “We will, of course, continue to monitor this in light of the growing scarcity of testing availability. However, at this time we are still accepting proof of negative tests from the relatively few people who use that means to attend concerts here.”

Campbell joined three other councilors in October 2021 in voting against the increase in funding for the arts, leading to a tie vote that killed the proposal. The 2022 budget passed with 1 percent of the city’s general fund dedicated to supporting the arts, the same percentage it has been for the last decade.

The failed proposal would not have directly affected the city’s financial support of the CPA. The City of Carmel’s 2022 budget allocates $2.25 million to the CPA, the same amount allocated for the last several years.

In an email response to Campbell in September 2021, McDermott outlined the CPA’s reasons for requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, including a requirement from many performers – including John Legend and Ben Folds – that these policies be in place to avoid cancellation of the shows. McDermott also stated that without the requirements, Actors Equity would likely prohibit resident company Actors Theatre of Indiana from performing there, “a result that would be devastating to ATI,” he wrote.

The emails between Campbell and McDermott were provided to Current from a source that wishes to remain anonymous.


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