It was a fairly quiet month, all told, and no news is good news after some of the horrible stories we’ve been treated to in previous years. It looks like we actually have a chance of seeing an increase in state arts appropriations this year for the first time since before the recession, though we’ll still be way behind where we were a decade ago.
The House of Representatives passed a budget resolution based on Paul Ryan’s FY13 budget blueprint that hews closely to conservative thinking on a number of fronts. Included in the document is the following statement on arts funding:
Encourage Private Funding for Cultural Agencies. Federal subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting can no longer be justified. The activities and content funded by these agencies go beyond the core mission of the Federal Government and they are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens. These agencies can raise funds from private-sector patrons, which will also free them from any risk of political interference.
I find it completely amazing that conservatives actually have the chutzpah to make this argument. They are such valiant defenders of the poor that they actually deign to give a rat’s ass about the welfare of our nation’s downtrodden when there’s an opportunity to save them a couple of pennies by eliminating the National Endowment of the Arts. Oh wait, what’s that you say? The poor don’t pay income taxes? So they’re not subsidizing the NEA, or any other government agency for that matter? Which means your argument is full of shit? Got it.
Poor Kansas is still looking for ways to get back some of what it lost last year when Governor Sam Brownback vetoed the entire budget of the state’s arts commission. The House passed a bill that would add an option to Kansas tax forms that would allow taxpayers to voluntarily contribute to the Kansas Arts Commission. Given that a similar initiative in California raises only 0.4 cents per capita, I doubt that will prove an effective means of resurrecting the agency.
Utah has passed legislation that will put a question on the November ballot asking voters to consider a statewide sales tax to fund cultural agencies as well as zoos and botanical gardens. Dedicated tax streams have proven one of the most lucrative and stable sources of arts funding around, so good luck to arts advocates in moving this one forward.
The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies keeps a detailed and regularly updated list of relevant legislation and machinations by state at this link.
Chicago Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Michelle T. Boone sat down for her first interview on the job, talking through the merger with the city’s Office of Special Events, the ongoing citywide cultural plan, and other topics. The Commission’s budget declined by about 10%
Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington, DC is proposing a modest increase in local funding for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which saw its budget decimated last year primarily by cuts from Congress.
Most of the news this past month relates to fallout from cuts European governments implemented last year. In the UK, The Stage reports that more than one in nine of the 206 arts groups who lost all of their Arts Council England funding intend to close up shop; another 22% are at risk of closing. Groups in Wales were hit hard by budget cuts last year too, with the burden falling disproportionately on companies serving youth and specific geographic areas. The Netherlands’ decision to slash its cultural budget by 25% last year had previously been reported on Createquity, but I was surprised to learn via the New York Times that Portugal has completely dropped its Ministry of Culture. The same article names Italy, Greece (not surprisingly), Hungary, Spain, and Ireland as other countries that have recently ripped their culture budgets a new one.
All of this is leading to some potentially nightmarish unintended consequences for U.S. arts organizations. Because European governments are so much more active in cultural life than that of the United States, arts institutions in those countries have never had the need or the desire to build up a strong base of private contributions. So now that new funds are needed, rather than start down the long path of cultivating that presently nonexistent generosity, organizations are looking for a quicker fix: American donors.
Europe isn’t the only one feeling the pinch; Ontario, in Canada, is too. But one government arts agency that’s doing well is Brazil’s SESC, which is financed by a unique model involving a 1.5% payroll tax that has helped the entity’s budget double approximately every six years. SESC’s budget is $600 million, rivaling some of the wealthiest European nations, but its broad mandate includes recreational activities and even health clinics in addition to arts organizations.