Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Arts Commission supporters to Haley: not so fast

Response to Governor Haley's "State of the State" proposal to zero-out funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission came swiftly and is continuing steadily. A subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee held a public hearing last week that was packed with arts supporters, including SC Philharmonic conductor Morihiko Nakahara. More hearings of the full committee lie ahead, and the process will be continuing through June as the full legislature slogs through the tough budgetary decisions that must be made, but the preliminary indications from this January 26 hearing were encouraging.

Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May's address to the panel is worth reading in its entirety. He focused on the arts' role in education and the economy, and made clear that the Commission's work benefits many traditionally underserved corners of the state:

It is also important to note that private investment in the arts—by individuals, corporations, and foundations—is almost exclusively local and is not equally distributed. This is why the Arts Commission’s investment of grant funds statewide is so important. In poorer communities it helps to fill a gap in local funding, and in communities with more resources, our investment helps to leverage additional local contributions. Last year, across all programs, we awarded more than $2.2 million in grants. These awards went to schools, arts organizations, and other community groups and were spread broadly around the state—more than 340 grants in 41 counties. These grants helped local groups raise more than $91 million in matching funds—a return on investment of better than 40 to 1.

May later added, "I don’t think it will help our image at all if we decide to be the only state in the nation that says no to any investment in the arts for all of its citizens." But sadly, South Carolina is not the only state where arts funding is under attack: Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas has proposed privatizing that state's arts commission and to provide no state funding for it whatsoever.

Back home here, the South Carolina Arts Alliance is spearheading an Arts Advocacy Day at the State House next Tuesday, February 8, with arts supporters gathering at the Capitol in the morning followed by a luncheon with legislators at the Capital City Club. Details here; also join the Alliance's Facebook page to find out lots more specifics about the events of that day. 

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