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State Arts Funding: A Scattered Forecast

Jay Dick

State legislatures are finishing their work on state budgets in the coming weeks. As it stands, it is a mixed forecast when it comes to funding for the arts. Some areas are being poured on as if a hurricane parked on top of them, while others are only seeing scattered showers, or even partly sunny conditions.

In an average year, about 35 states see an increase to their arts agency funding. As it stands right now, 17 states will see an increase with four maintaining flat funding. This leaves 29 states receiving a cut. This should not come as a surprise to anyone given the severe economic budget crunch that most every state is experiencing as many state legislatures are cutting most agencies or programs from education to roads. The arts are certainly not immune from cuts. What amazes me is that 17 states are still getting an increase! 

Moreover, of the 29 states that are receiving a cut, with some exceptions, the cuts are in line with other state agency budget cuts (3-10 percent). While any decrease is unfortunate, if all state agencies are being cut, then it is very difficult, if not impractical to argue for an increase for the state arts agency.

It isn’t accidental that with the exception of 10 states (Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin) that are facing substantial budget cuts that are disproportionate to other state agencies, we have 38 states with either increases, flat funding, or a proportionate cut. It is due to the work of arts advocates in those states working to educate their state elected officials on the value and importance of the arts.

But, that said, there are a couple states that are in serious danger.

All eyes are on Kansas next Tuesday when the governor must make a decision on the state’s budget bill. As it stands, the state legislature has appropriated $689,000 for the Kansas Arts Commission. Arts supporters are concerned he will use his veto pen to strike arts funding, causing Kansas to be the only state to not have a functioning state arts agency (The Kansas Arts Commission would continue to exist, but it would not have any staff nor a budget).

As you might recall, Gov. Brownback had previously wanted to transition the commission into a nonprofit organization which would raise its own funds. He proposed a one-year appropriation of $200,000 for the transition. The state senate, understanding that this was a bad idea, voted 24-16 to override this proposal. The legislature then went on to appropriate the $689,000. The final decision now rests with the governor. Stay tuned to see what happens on Tuesday, May 31.

New Hampshire is also another state on our radar. The legislative session started out with the governor submitting a budget with an eight percent cut for the state arts agency. But, out of the blue, the house, with over 200 new members this year (the New Hampshire House has the distinction of being the largest state legislative chamber with 400 members each representing approximately 3,290 people) cutting the budget to $10,000 and then to zero when it finally passed. The good news is that the Senate Finance Committee voted to maintain the state arts council, although with less funding. The full senate (with 24 members) will debate and vote on this in the coming weeks. Advocates in New Hampshire continue to work with legislators educating them about the importance of the arts.

I don’t want to end on a negative note, so I will share some good news from a couple of days ago.

In Washington State, which earlier this year saw their governor propose a $250,000 budget for the state arts commission (down from $1.2 million last year), both the house and senate approved a $1.1 million budget for the commission! While this is a decrease of $100,000 from last year, it is a big increase from $250,000!

In light of the varied state funding situations across the country, what impact has this economy had on your local arts community?

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