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.
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.
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.
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.