Monday, March 15, 2010

Cuts to Arts Funding Less Than Expected

Alan Albert, legislative council for Virginians for the Arts, says letters and calls from people in the Commonwealth who support the arts had an impact on the General Assembly and led to cuts that were less severe than expected. I'm not so sure that's the case, given the constant threat to the funding by the House of Delegates year after year, but I'll take the funding.

The U.S. is least among equals of First World nations in funding of the arts, even though that investment has shown to have returns that equal 700 percent of each dollar spent. The conservatives in the House have traditionally used the revocation of funding for the arts as something of a Sword of Damocles in bargaining for lesser reductions to the arts and more severe cuts elsewhere. I don't really consider this much of a victory, though if you're threatened with death and only lose an arm or a leg, I guess there's a victory in there somewhere.

Here's what Albert said in a release:

"The House and Senate budget conferees have compromised on the questions of arts funding and the continuing existence of the Virginia Commission for the Arts (VCA) by recommending an additional cut of $669,673 -- approximately 16.4 percent--to the state general fund appropriation for grants to arts organizations throughout the Commonwealth.

"This cut, while unfortunate in light of the 30 percent in cuts to arts funding previously made during 2008 and 2009, is a far cry from the proposal in the House budget plan, which would have cut VCA funding by 50 percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and eliminated the Commission, and all arts funding, a year later. I am absolutely certain that this relatively small cut--in the larger context of a $4.2 billion gap between base spending needs and available revenues--is a direct result of the wonderful outpouring of advocacy efforts from every corner of Virginia since the House plan was unveiled on February 21.

"Arts advocates rose to the challenge and contacted legislators in unprecedented numbers, making clear the enormous breadth and depth of support for Virginia's rich and diverse arts and cultural resources. But for this heartfelt display of support, this cut could have been far worse--and the Commission itself might not have survived.

"Assuming that the Governor does not choose to suggest amendments to this budget item--something we consider unlikely--total state general funds available for arts grants in FY11 will be approximately $3.37 million.*

This represents a significant decline--some $2.4 million, to be precise--from the high point of funding, achieved in FY08, of $5.78 million, and regrettably will bring Virginia below 50 cents per capita in arts funding for the first time in a number of years. Nevertheless, we count ourselves fortunate in comparison to those in several other states. facing similarly unprecedented budget pressures, that have made more draconian cuts, and even zeroed out arts funding altogether."

(*This figure represents the state general fund appropriation for arts grant funding, the "yardstick" by which we measure progress toward our dollar-per-capita goal for state arts funding. This does not include (a) funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) (approximately $721,000 this year, plus one-time stimulus funding of approximately $300,000), (b) the operating budget of the VCA itself ($532,137), and (c) a small amount of revenue derived from sales of the "Virginians for the Arts" license plate and income tax refund checkoffs (totaling approximately $43,000). Other published reports regarding arts funding occasionally refer to the combined general fund appropriation for grants and for administration; that figure will be $3.9 million in each of the next two fiscal years once this additional cut is taken into consideration.)

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