Local arts and cul­ture orga­ni­za­tions fear that pro­posed bud­get cuts may force them to take their final bow

At this point… we’re on life sup­port” she said, with a small, sad laugh, “We have already gone through numer­ous years of cuts, so the impact of more cuts would real­ly be dev­as­tat­ing” said Amy Wynn, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the North­west Con­necti­cut Arts Coun­cil. Wynn, along with many of her col­leagues across the state are becom­ing increas­ing­ly con­cerned with the pro­posed bud­get. As it stands now, the pro­posed bud­get cuts to the arts and cul­ture sec­tor would be extreme­ly detri­men­tal to orga­ni­za­tions through­out the state, while pro­vid­ing lit­tle over­all finan­cial relief. In addi­tion, the elim­i­na­tion of line item fund­ing for local Non-prof­its and arts orga­ni­za­tions through­out the state, has left many unsure of the lev­el of fund­ing they will receive, if any at all, know­ing only that what­ev­er they do receive will not be enough. Orga­ni­za­tions that were once bea­cons of cul­ture and tourism through­out the state have become lit­tle more than a foot­note in Connecticut’s his­to­ry; and as the bud­get for arts and cul­ture through­out the state con­tin­ues to decrease, many arts orga­ni­za­tions fear that they will nev­er again be able to regain their integri­ty as finan­cial­ly sta­ble and com­pet­i­tive cul­tur­al institutions.

In the new bud­get plan pro­posed this year by Con­necti­cut Gov­er­nor Dan­nel P. Mal­loy, “State fund­ing for the arts has been reduced by $3 mil­lion” through the elim­i­na­tion of line items for arts orga­ni­za­tions through­out the state, as report­ed by Frank Riz­zo, the arts and pop cul­ture reporter for the Hart­ford Courant in a recent arti­cle on the bud­get cuts. Arts orga­ni­za­tions such as play­hous­es, the­aters, arts cen­ters and local land­marks (such as The Mark Twain House) have had their line items reduced to zero, mean­ing that many dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tions that once shared guar­an­teed bud­gets upwards of $400,000, (some upwards of $1.4 mil­lion) now have no guar­an­teed bud­get. Instead, the over­all arts bud­get for the state, which is to be reduced by $3 mil­lion, will be allo­cat­ed by the state’s Office of Pol­i­cy and Man­age­ment (who could not be reached for com­ment on this sto­ry) to the dif­fer­ent arts orga­ni­za­tions indi­vid­u­al­ly; an idea that makes many orga­ni­za­tions extreme­ly ner­vous as to how much fund­ing (if any) they will even­tu­al­ly receive.

 The $3 mil­lion dol­lar reduc­tion for over­all arts fund­ing may not seem like a large amount of mon­ey. Over­all, “The cur­rent arts fund­ing of $6.7 mil­lion is .03% of the entire State oper­at­ing bud­get,” accord­ing to the Con­necti­cut Arts Alliance. Though $3 mil­lion and .03% seem like small num­bers to most peo­ple when com­pared to an entire state’s oper­at­ing bud­get, in real­i­ty a $3 mil­lion dol­lar reduc­tion would have a huge impact on the abil­i­ty of local arts orga­ni­za­tions to con­tin­ue oper­at­ing, and the fail­ure of these orga­ni­za­tions would result in a huge loss of rev­enue for the state as well as the loss of thou­sands of jobs. Accord­ing to the Con­necti­cut Arts Coun­cil, the arts with­in Con­necti­cut cur­rent­ly gen­er­ate, “$653 mil­lion in total eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty and deliv­er $59.1 mil­lion in local and state gov­ern­ment rev­enue.” In addi­tion, the arts with­in the state sup­port over, “18,314 full-time equiv­a­lent jobs.” With the loss of $3 mil­lion dol­lars in fund­ing, many of these orga­ni­za­tions could be forced to close their doors. Arts Revenue and Jobs
Among those who are stand­ing up against the cur­rent bud­get cuts is Amy Wynn.  Along with many of her col­leagues, she has writ­ten to the state Con­ser­va­tion and Devel­op­ment Com­mit­tee, say­ing that the cut of $3 mil­lion will not notice­ably aid the state’s ail­ing bud­get, but will def­i­nite­ly decrease the abil­i­ty of arts orga­ni­za­tions to con­tin­ue oper­a­tions: “The arts specif­i­cal­ly com­prise a very small por­tion of state spend­ing, less than 3 tenths of one per­cent. Reduc­ing expen­di­tures that mod­est won’t appre­cia­bly affect the state bud­get, but will dam­age the cul­tur­al sector’s abil­i­ty to pro­vide jobs, goods and ser­vices to com­mu­ni­ties,” said Wynn. In addi­tion, Wynn expressed to the com­mit­tee the main fear of many work­ing in the arts through­out the state, which is that oth­er res­i­dents will not real­ize that even what seems like a small cut of $3 mil­lion would affect the con­tin­ued oper­a­tion of local arts orga­ni­za­tions, “Some would say, “What’s a $2,500 or a $14,000 cut to an orga­ni­za­tion going to do?” Well, it could very well mean someone’s job, or the after school pro­gram that orga­ni­za­tion pro­vides, or the abil­i­ty to keep tick­ets, tuition and fees afford­able for com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. You also take away people’s hope and inspi­ra­tion with cuts like that,” Wynn said. With the bud­get loom­ing over the heads of every­one in the state who works in the arts, many groups includ­ing the North­west Con­necti­cut Arts Coun­cil and the Con­necti­cut Arts Alliance have put togeth­er a list of rec­om­men­da­tions regard­ing the bud­get that would best serve arts orga­ni­za­tions through­out the state. Their list includes the rein­state­ment of line-item fund­ing and main­tain­ing fund­ing for state-des­ig­nat­ed grant pro­grams in order to ensure that arts pro­grams through­out the state will receive ade­quate funding.

It is clear that local arts orga­ni­za­tions and Non­prof­its through­out the state adamant­ly oppose any cuts to the arts and cul­ture sec­tor of the bud­get. How­ev­er, they are aware that the cuts must come from some­where, which is what has pushed them to iden­ti­fy exact­ly why cut­ting funds from arts and cul­ture would not only be detri­men­tal to that par­tic­u­lar sec­tor, but would also be insignif­i­cant in the long run, “Yes, the state has to deal with a deficit, but in terms of cut­ting mon­ey from the arts, it’s real­ly not in the best inter­est of the state due to just how tiny the arts bud­get is, and we’re talk­ing minus­cule here. Hon­est­ly, these cuts have a much bet­ter chance of hurt­ing the state than they do of help­ing it,” said Frank Riz­zo, the arts and pop cul­ture reporter for the Hart­ford Courant. Riz­zo made it clear that though he under­stands that the state needs to make some cuts, cut­ting from the arts bud­get would only hurt the state in the long run, as the cuts would immo­bi­lize many local arts orga­ni­za­tions, leav­ing them unable to gen­er­ate rev­enue for the state. How­ev­er, Riz­zo does not believe that all local arts orga­ni­za­tions are doing enough to make their case, as he stat­ed that they need to get the ball rolling on solu­tions and alter­na­tives to the cuts, rather than sim­ply protest­ing them, “I don’t think that these groups are being cre­ative enough. They should be com­ing up with oth­er options and ini­tia­tives on their own. They need to make the state­ment that the mon­ey they receive from the state isn’t just a ‘gift’, that it actu­al­ly allows them to con­tribute to state rev­enue,” Riz­zo said. 

Some­thing that both Wynn and Riz­zo were adamant about, is the idea of just how dif­fi­cult it is for these small arts and cul­ture orga­ni­za­tions to bounce back after these cuts have been made. For many orga­ni­za­tions, once they lose nec­es­sary oper­at­ing funds, it becomes impos­si­ble for them to regain momen­tum, “For some, they’ll have to raise mon­ey which is very tough to do, it won’t effect the larg­er insti­tu­tions quite as severe­ly, how­ev­er they’ll lose quite a few hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars. But who it real­ly hurts is the many small groups that already just exist on the mea­ger amount of mon­ey that the state gives. It’s real­ly dif­fi­cult for these small­er groups to loose any mon­ey,” said Riz­zo. Accord­ing to Wynn, the idea of ‘bounc­ing back’ doesn’t real­ly exist in the local arts world, as these small­er orga­ni­za­tions are such vital pieces of their com­mu­ni­ty, that once they are lost, it becomes that much more dif­fi­cult to inte­grate them once again, “When bud­gets like these require these dras­tic cuts to arts and cul­ture, the state is lit­er­al­ly tear­ing out big chunks of these sys­tems and will pay for it in the future. Imag­ine tak­ing away whole arts orga­ni­za­tions or pro­grams who are pro­vid­ing ser­vices to the com­mu­ni­ty. You can’t just put that back togeth­er when times are good. It’s very dif­fi­cult to bring things back to the lev­el that they should be,” said Wynn. Riz­zo and Wynn both make the point that sim­ply throw­ing mon­ey at a dying orga­ni­za­tion will not nec­es­sar­i­ly save it, mean­ing that even with the restora­tion of line item fund­ing some­time in the future, which is still not a guar­an­tee, many small orga­ni­za­tions through­out the state will like­ly be too far gone to recov­er. In addi­tion, many through­out the state are wor­ried that line items, “Might dis­ap­pear from future state bud­gets because they are marked as $0,” said Riz­zo in a recent arti­cle writ­ten for the Hart­ford Courant. Pre­vi­ous­ly, Gov­er­nor Rell always left line items at $1 mil­lion, to ensure that they were fig­ured into the bud­get, thus, with line items cur­rent­ly at $0, it is unclear as to whether or not they will be revi­tal­ized, or sim­ply lost all together.

Due to the cur­rent state of the econ­o­my, tax­pay­ers and pro­fes­sion­als through­out the state rec­og­nize that bud­get cuts must be made, how­ev­er, those asso­ci­at­ed with the arts with­in Con­necti­cut also rec­og­nize that the arts and cul­ture sec­tor is not the appro­pri­ate place to make these cuts. Elim­i­nat­ing a huge sec­tion of the arts and cul­ture bud­get wouldn’t advance the state as a whole finan­cial­ly, and would only serve to dam­age local arts orga­ni­za­tions, pos­si­bly beyond repair. The Budget Numbers

Their pos­i­tive impact on the com­mu­ni­ty is per­haps the most vital con­tri­bu­tion that can be made by small, local arts and cul­ture orga­ni­za­tions. After school arts pro­grams, local the­atre com­pa­nies, cul­tur­al land­marks and the thou­sands of jobs through­out the state that are asso­ci­at­ed with the arts not only pro­vide child­care and employ­ment, but also end­less cul­tur­al enrich­ment. Local arts orga­ni­za­tions entrench them­selves in their com­mu­ni­ties, often help­ing to revi­tal­ize the area, par­tic­u­lar­ly in low-income com­mu­ni­ties that need it the most. These impor­tant orga­ni­za­tions how­ev­er are often the ones that are the most reliant on state fund­ing. One such local orga­ni­za­tion based out of Wash­ing­ton Depot, Con­necti­cut, is a small Non­prof­it called ‘After School Arts Pro­gram’ or ‘ASAP!’ for short. This orga­ni­za­tion pro­vides after school pro­grams, sum­mer camps, field trips and in-school pro­grams for tens of thou­sands of chil­dren in over 100 dif­fer­ent Con­necti­cut towns includ­ing many low­er-income stu­dents attend­ing lot­tery-based insti­tu­tions such as Water­bury Arts Mag­net School. This pro­gram not only pro­vides edu­ca­tion in the arts for chil­dren through­out the state, but also pro­vides many work­ing par­ents with ade­quate and enrich­ing child­care. In addi­tion, ‘ASAP!’ pro­vides finan­cial aid to any fam­i­ly that requires it, as well as trans­porta­tion to some of their off-cam­pus pro­grams. Which means that chil­dren from poor­er fam­i­lies can par­tic­i­pate in these edu­ca­tion­al and stim­u­lat­ing pro­grams with­out hav­ing to wor­ry about the cost; and accord­ing to their web­site, 82 per­cent of their stu­dents do take advan­tage of their pro­grams in non-tuition based set­tings or through the use of finan­cial aid. In a recent post to their web­site, ‘ASAP!’ stat­ed that if the pro­posed cuts of $3 mil­lion were to be enact­ed, that it would have, “A pro­found impact on our abil­i­ty to ful­fill our mis­sion,” mean­ing that they would not be able to pro­vide the same qual­i­ty of pro­grams for near­ly as many stu­dents through­out the state. Thus, many stu­dents and par­ents who have come to rely on ‘ASAP!’ as a sup­ple­ment to their edu­ca­tion and as a source of child­care, will like­ly be left with­out either of these things in the near future.

ASAP!’ also stat­ed on their web­site that they feel it is impor­tant for our gov­ern­ment to real­ize that many orga­ni­za­tions through­out the state that are sim­i­lar to their own are already oper­at­ing on a very small bud­get, mean­ing that any addi­tion­al cuts could close the cur­tains for good, “When con­sid­er­ing the future of our arts orga­ni­za­tions, remem­ber how “close to the line” we oper­ate with­in our bud­gets.  These cuts will be dev­as­tat­ing and once they are done it will take years to rebuild for those that survive.”

Sim­i­lar to small arts orga­ni­za­tions through­out Con­necti­cut who depend on state fund­ing to sur­vive, there are many local arts and cul­ture pro­grams aimed at revi­tal­iz­ing needy com­mu­ni­ties that also require state fund­ing or dona­tions from large­ly state-fund­ed insti­tu­tions. One exam­ple of this is the iQuilt plan. This plan is attempt­ing to reshape the city of Hart­ford by mak­ing the city more walk­a­ble and mod­ern through con­nect­ing the city’s assets, which include, “Muse­ums, per­for­mance spaces, his­toric land­marks, mod­ern archi­tec­ture and pub­lic art,” accord­ing to the project’s web­site. Ini­tia­tives asso­ci­at­ed with the iQuilt plan such as ‘Envi­sion­fest’, ‘Win­ter­fest Hart­ford’ and the Bush­nell Plaza Sculp­ture Gar­den have already brought hun­dreds of thou­sands of vis­i­tors to Hart­ford, pro­vid­ed local jobs and gen­er­at­ed state rev­enue from tourism. Ini­tia­tives like the iQuilt plan how­ev­er are depen­dent on donors, and unfor­tu­nate­ly, two major donors of this plan are the Con­necti­cut Com­mis­sion of Cul­ture and Tourism and The Bush­nell Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts. These two orga­ni­za­tions rely on ade­quate state fund­ing in order to oper­ate, which they will not be receiv­ing if the bud­get cuts are passed. The Bush­nell Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts has already had their line item fund­ing reduced to $0 in the pro­posed bud­get, mak­ing it unlike­ly that they will be able to con­tin­ue sup­port­ing the iQuilt plan if the bud­get pass­es as is. In sit­u­a­tions such as these, accord­ing to Amy Wynn, not only do the arts orga­ni­za­tions suf­fer, but also the com­mu­ni­ty at large, as they con­tin­ue to lose out on projects such as the iQuilt plan and pro­grams like ‘ASAP!’ due to the sever­i­ty of the bud­get cuts, “The arts are a huge part of people’s lives here, they bring peo­ple togeth­er, they bring them to main streets and they give a sense of pride to the com­mu­ni­ty. This kind of ‘cri­sis approach’ to cuts is what makes this bud­get so uncre­ative and so unhealthy, because it isn’t allow­ing us to move for­ward or make progress. Let’s look at the big pic­ture and pro­pose some­thing that would be health­i­er, that would not be so fre­quent­ly under attack,” Wynn said. Though the many local arts orga­ni­za­tions have some dif­fer­ing thoughts on solu­tions to the cuts, what is unan­i­mous­ly agreed upon, is that cuts of this mag­ni­tude to the arts and cul­ture sec­tor will not only hurt these orga­ni­za­tions, but will have a neg­a­tive impact on the com­mu­ni­ties that they call home.

Information sourced from 'How The Arts Impact Communities' by Joshua Guetzkow (2002)

Infor­ma­tion sourced from ‘How The Arts Impact Com­mu­ni­ties’ by Joshua Guet­zkow (2002)

 Cuts to the arts and cul­ture sec­tor of the state bud­get are noth­ing new. Every year arts pro­fes­sion­als through­out the state hold their breath as they wait to hear how much less fund­ing they will have to work with in the upcom­ing sea­son. Though the punch­es seem to keep com­ing, local arts orga­ni­za­tions and Non­prof­its con­tin­ue to do their best and use every resource at their dis­pos­al to pro­vide qual­i­ty enter­tain­ment, arts edu­ca­tion and to gen­er­ate mil­lions in rev­enue for the state. In a state­ment that she makes very con­fi­dent­ly, Amy Wynn reit­er­ates the need for the arts in Con­necti­cut, stat­ing that their impor­tance in so many dif­fer­ent facets of life can not be under­es­ti­mat­ed, “Local arts orga­ni­za­tions are root­ed in their com­mu­ni­ties, whether they be munic­i­pal­ly or region­al­ly based. They pro­vide resources to a num­ber of needs as far as edu­ca­tion, social engage­ment, com­mu­ni­ty iden­ti­ty, and they are cer­tain­ly eco­nom­ic dri­vers,” said Wynn. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, due to the sever­i­ty of these cuts pro­posed in the state bud­get, 2015 may be the year that many arts orga­ni­za­tions around the state are forced to close their doors for the last time, if the bud­get is passed as is. 

Wynn still has hope how­ev­er, hope that local arts orga­ni­za­tions and pro­fes­sion­als around the state can come togeth­er and cre­ate a plan for the bud­get that doesn’t involve such dras­tic arts and cul­ture cuts; and hope that through pub­li­ciz­ing just how destruc­tive these cuts would be, that Con­necti­cut res­i­dents will rec­og­nize the val­ue of the arts in their every­day lives and speak up, “What I would love to see is, I would love them not to make cuts to arts and cul­ture right now. They are not going to solve their prob­lems by cut­ting us, it’s actu­al­ly going to hurt and dam­age the state because of the loss of rev­enue, because these cuts real­ly will have a huge impact on Con­necti­cut orga­ni­za­tions… large or small, the impact could hon­est­ly be dev­as­tat­ing,” said Wynn.

 

This gallery of pho­tographs is of a local pro­duc­tion of the opera ‘Gian­ni Schic­chi’ pro­duced with the Hartt School in West Hart­ford, Con­necti­cut, fea­tur­ing local Con­necti­cut opera singer Craig Hart, in the title role. In addi­tion there is a gallery of pho­tographs in the mid­dle of the page fea­tur­ing pho­tos from pro­duc­tions of ‘Nine’ and ‘Lit­tle Women’ pro­duced by a Con­necti­cut based opera com­pa­ny ‘Inter­mez­zo’ in Brugge, Bel­gium in 2009. There are also two videos in the side bar, one fea­tur­ing local sopra­no Robin Blauers, and the oth­er fea­tur­ing a Bel­ly Danc­ing troupe from Collinsville, Con­necti­cut, per­form­ing in the local Hal­loween Parade.