Thursday, February 25, 2010

Coming to the Rescue of the Arts ... Again

My mailbox has been filling up the past two days with screaming alerts from arts organizations that are not uncommon this time of the year, when the Virginia General Assembly is in session. These alerts warn of a vote in the House of Delegates today that could kill the Virginia Commission for the Arts, a small agency that, in its way, helps set our culture apart from the Third World (Mississippi, for example).

Just about every year since the Republican Party took over the House, there has been a threat to eliminate arts funding of one kind or another, whether it be Public Radio and TV money or a much broader slash that seems to be fomenting today. The commission is an umbrella organization that supports arts all over the state and the current vote--House only, remember--would cut its state funding in half.

Virginia has cut or eliminated much of its arts funding in recent years and very few non-state agencies (mostly in Richmond) are getting fat on state money. The Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke got an infusion of funds for construction when it was going up, but even this sacred cow (its supporters have given a lot of money to Republican candidates over the years) is looking a little peaked in the state monies department.

I am close enough to arts organizations on a daily basis to know that de-funding at just about any level right now could kill some of them. Many people consider these organizations to be what former Gov. Doug Wilder called "niceties" without considering that they are some of the least expensive education programs we have. They are an economic development/quality of life issue that industrial recruiters and ED professionals hold dear in trying to recruit (imagine, for example, trying to sell Roanoke to a large manufacturing company if it had no arts organizations, no theater, independent movie houses, no symphony, no Arts Council, no Jefferson Center or Center in the Square).

Though I have no idea who's listening, I would urge those of you with any sense of history, culture and educational value to call your representative (Onzlee Ware and Bill Cleaveland from Roanoke; don't even bother with Morgan Griffith of Salem because he won't take your call anyway) and express your support for funding for the arts in general and the commission in particular. Cleaveland's at 804-698-1017 or and Ware can be reached at 804-698-1011 or Griffith's at 804-698-1008, if you're into banging your head against the wall.

Suggest a funding source: a two cents per pack levy on cigarettes or a penny per ticket tax on entertainment or sports events. I know that's not going anywhere, but don't make any suggestions without alternatives and those are alternatives. I don't think suggesting cuts in other areas has much merit since our state's budget is about as lean as budgets get.

The real shame here is that the House of Delegates does not seem to understand that the arts has any value and has had its knife ready to slash for years. The U.S. is last among First World nations in arts funding and my guess is that Virginia is hovering around Mississippi levels in state rankings (I choose Mississippi because it is permanently fixed around the bottom in everything and Virginia's House members seem to revere that). There's a philosophical divide here and it seems to be getting wider as Griffith's boys move in for the kill.


  1. Hear, hear, Dan! We so easily turn our back on the arts, forgetting that it is creative expression that allows us to make sense of our lives, to communicate across the most stubborn of divides, like ethnicity and socioeconomics. And I shutter to think of what this country would be like in twenty years if we didn't teach children the kind of creative thinking that will allow them to be the next global leader. Now more than ever we need people with open, creative, flexible minds.

    But I guess when it comes to politics, there is only one argument worth making: for every dollar the state invests in arts through the VCA, there is a $7 return in investment, monies that come from local governments, businesses and private citizens. Last time I checked, that's a win/win...

    Thanks for writing about this!

  2. Sarah Beth: I like the $7 figure. Where does it come from? I'd like to use it (over and over).