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March 18, 2009

Budget Cuts Affecting Local Arts Scene

Michael Kurtianyk

If current legislation is passed by the General Assembly, funding to the Maryland State Arts Council would decrease from $16.6 million to $10.6 million. This is on top of the 14 percent cut last year, used to balance the budget.


According to Shuan Butcher, executive director of the Frederick Arts Council: "About 40 percent of our funding is from the state arts council, [which is about] $90,000 annually.


Why is it that during times of trouble, it’s the arts that are first to get cut?


I am reminded of great wisdom from Winston Churchill. During the World War II, his finance minister said Britain should cut arts funding to support the war effort.


Prime Minister Churchill's response: "Good God, man, what the hell are we fighting for?''


According to Americans for the Arts, the nonprofit arts industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity annually for the U.S. economy, supports 5.7 million full-time jobs, and returns $12.6 billion in income tax revenue to the federal government.


Studies show that every dollar granted in arts funding creates $2.13 in secondary economic expenditures.


Yet there are the immeasurable revenues generated by the arts. When times get tough, when individuals lose their jobs, entertainment is what they have to brighten up their day and momentarily erase the negatives in their lives. There are many arts and entertainment venues that are free or of minor expense in which everyone can participate.


This is because federal and state governments support the arts, and the local arts councils pass this money on at the local level, where many families enjoy the arts. Just look at all the free events at the Frederick Arts Council and the Delaplaine Visual Arts Center, the library, as well as many other local groups. This is only possible because of community and government support.


Most of us appreciate the intrinsic benefits of the arts – how they inspire, provoke, and connect us. When it comes time to make tough funding choices, however, elected officials and business leaders also need to have the strength to understand the economic benefits of a vibrant nonprofit arts and culture industry.


Arts organizations are members of the business community – employing people locally, purchasing goods and services within the community, and involved in the marketing and promotion of their cities.


When times get tough, everyone needs a laugh, needs to listen to music, enjoy artists’ work, and relax when it is free. This is not the time to reduce or minimize the dollars going to the arts. Arts improve the mental health of the community besides putting dollars into the community and improving the local economy.


People today (myself included) take more "staycations," as they look to avoid airfares. A strong arts sector will encourage people to stay local and attend cultural events close to home, boosting the local economy. The decline in business, personal, and real estate tax revenues are hurting local economies. Spending by cultural tourists will pour more sales and hotel tax dollars into municipal coffers, which means fewer cuts in city services and a decreased likelihood of tax increases – good news for businesses.


The arts make us stronger as a people. They provide bridges between cultures. They embody the accumulated wisdom, intellect, and imagination of humankind. Government and private-sector support is essential to promote full access to and participation in exhibits, performances, arts education, and other cultural events regardless of family income.


They improve the quality of life in our cities and town. They enhance community development; spur urban renewal; attract new businesses; draw tourism dollars; and create an environment that attracts skilled, educated workers.


Given this economy, we should emphasize this huge untapped economic engine.


So much of the budget of non-profit organizations devoted to arts and culture come from philanthropy – money donated by corporations, foundations and private donors. Given the current state of the economy, philanthropic donations have already been in decline and will only continue to grow smaller.


Look at the areas in which the arts benefit our society: education, community/downtown development, cultural tourism, business expansion, broadening understanding of cultural diversity, preserving cultural heritage/traditions, and enhancing the quality of life for the entire population.


When we reduce support for the arts, we are not cutting frills. Rather, we’re undercutting an industry that is a cornerstone of tourism, economic development, and the revitalization of many downtowns. When we increase support for the arts, we are generating tax revenues, jobs, and a creativity-based economy.


To combat the reduction in funding, the Maryland Citizens for the Arts has organized a massive postcard and e-mail writing campaign to state legislators to protest the size of the proposed funding cut.


The cuts proposed in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act will set Maryland State Arts Council funding levels back 10 years. They would reduce the funding it will be able to grant to 1993 levels.


We, the citizens of Frederick City and Frederick County, should do our best to contact our representatives and tell them not to support further cuts in the arts. We must do what we can, for the benefits of all.


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