Stateline Story

Budget Cuts Paint Dreary Picture for State-Arts Funding

Amid an ongoing state fiscal crisis, arts agencies have fallen on hard times, with state lawmakers cutting arts funding more than 20 percent over the past two years and further cuts planned this year, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA).

Officials in several states, including New Jersey, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Missouri, said they had even considered proposals to completely eliminate state funding for the arts, although in most states proposed and enacted cuts have been less severe.

"There is a national crisis in state budgets, and in some states the impact on state art agency funding has been devastating," said Jonathan Katz, chief of the NASAA in a statement.

State art funding, which was $447 million in fiscal year 2001, drop to $353.9 in fiscal year 2003, according to a NASAA study. And judging by the several dozen state budgets passed this spring, state art funding will be even less in fiscal year 2004.

The impact of this funding drop is sure to be far-reaching, because state arts agencies support 28,000 grants and programs in 5,600 communities across the nation, according to NASAA.

"Those groups hit the worst will be small-to mid-sized theater and art groups that are starting to move forward and create some momentum," said Anthony Radich, executive director of the Western States Arts Federation, a nonprofit arts organization in Denver, Colo., that serves artists and arts organizations.

"It will take them years to recover, "he said in a telephone interview.

One such small theater company is the Greeley Rodarte Dancers in Greeley, Colo., a group that performs Aztec, Spanish and Mexican dances. The group offers free dance instruction to financially disadvantaged children.

"It helps build their self-esteem," Ruby Jimenez, executive director of the group, told Stateline.org. "I hate to see the dance group go, but if we don't have funds to run it, the families don't have the money to keep it going. I don't think we would exist anymore."

The dance group could lose up to $10,000, or half its budget, because of state budget cuts. The state legislature has reduced funding by 80 percent to the Colorado Council for the Arts, which is the state governing body that distributes money to groups such as the Greeley Rodarte Dancers.

The Colorado Council on the Arts took another hit recently when Gov. Bill Owens (D) ordered it to reduce overhead costs to $40,000 a year, said Renee Bovee, acting director of the agency in an interview.

"He was concerned that administrative costs were eating up too much of the $200,000 allocated to the state art council," Bovee told Stateline.org.

As a result of these cutbacks, the council is vacating its office space and will trim its staff from seven to two, she said. Staff reductions include the firing of long-time executive director Fran Holden, whose salary the council could no longer afford, Bovee said.

The cuts in Colorado constitute an extreme example of rollbacks of art funding in the country but the cuts are not unique in kind.

The Oregon Art Commission has seen its state funding suspended until the end of June. At that time, the Oregon legislature is supposed to restore some of the agency's money, albeit at a lower level, said Christine D'Arcy, executive director of the Oregon Art Commission. Come June, funding is expected to drop from $2.2 million to $1.7 million, D'Arcy said.

"We've cut to the bone," she said in an interview. To cope with an expect drop in funding, the organization will likely roll back grant money for arts organizations across the state, she said.

In New Jersey, Gov. James McGreevey (D) originally proposed to eliminate the state's Council on the Arts by cutting its entire $18 million budget to help close the state's $5 billion deficit.

Elimination now seems unlikely because state lawmakers are currently debating a Democratic budget proposal that would restore the Council's budget to $13 million, said Jeff Woodward, executive director of ArtPride New Jersey, an art-lobbying group that represents more than 200 art organizations across the state.

"We're not happy about the proposed cuts," Woodward told Stateline.org. "But we're also in a much better place than we were six months ago."

In Arizona, Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) last Tuesday (6/17) signed a fiscal year 2004 budget that cuts state art funding to $1.8 million, a reduction of 24 percent since fiscal year 2002.

However, in a victory for the state art program, the governor restored the commission's $7 million endowment for the arts, which legislators had originally taken to fill budget holes, said Shelley Cohn, executive director for Arizona Commission on the Arts. The Commission receives much of its funding from interest generated by its endowment.

Earlier this year Missouri removed its arts council from general revenue funding, meaning the council will receive none of the $3.9 million it did last year, said Norree Boyd, executive director of the Missouri Arts Council. Just two years ago, the council received $5.3 million from the state, she said in an interview.

Despite these cuts, the arts council has not yet been forced to drastically cut its operations because it is partially funding by the Missouri Cultural Trust, an endowment for the arts funded by an income tax on non-resident athletes and entertainers, Boyd said.

The trust money could dry up within three years, however, because the state legislature is using the athlete and entertainer tax revenue to fund other state programs in an attempt to close the state's estimated $1 billion deficit, Boyd said.

Even though most states are scaling back their arts funding, the news is not all doom and gloom. At least one state, Tennessee, has even been able to raise its level of art funding for fiscal year 2004, despite statewide fiscal problems.

The Tennessee Arts Commission's overall budget will increase to $5.25 million, up nearly 17 percent from fiscal year 2003, said Fran Wilson, director of administration for the commission. This increase is possible because the commission relies on non-taxpayer funded revenue from the sale of specialty license plates, she said.