By Brenda Showalter, The Republic

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    Arts and charitable organizations are vital to communities even as they deal with the economic challenges of the recession, according to a state arts leader. 

   Lewis Ricci, executive director of Indiana Arts Commission, spoke Thursday at the annual meeting of Columbus Area Arts Council about funding and perception challenges. 

   "The arts are not superfluous, but at the center of community life," Ricci said. 

   Although often called upon to talk about the importance of arts in economic downturns, he is frustrated by those who say, "Arts are nice, but not a must-have." 

   Ricci argues that arts organizations create jobs but also lift spirits and leave an immeasurable positive impact on individuals and communities during times when it is most needed. 

   Ricci, who led CAAC from 1991 to 1996, said lessons could be learned from the past with how President Franklin Roosevelt directed funding to art projects through the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. 

   Government funding went for such artistic pursuits as music, theater, mural painting, creating stained glass and sculpting. 

   Many of the art works became part of public buildings.

Stimulus for the arts 

   President Obama's stimulus plan includes funding for arts, but not as much as Ricci wishes would have been allotted. 

   He learned this week that Indiana could receive about $300,000 for the arts with organizations having to submit requests for funds. 

   Warren Baumgart, CAAC executive director, said 2008 was challenging with the flood and economic turmoil, but the council ended the year in the black.

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