June 4, 2012 05:34 PM

Because arts and culture aren't things we do particularly well here in Louisiana; the tourists, after all, come for the pristine roads and corporate tax credits.

Unable to see the tax revenue for the tourists, the Legislature has signed off on a state budget for the coming fiscal year that further reduces support for Decentralized Arts Funding and Statewide Arts Grants by about a third. House Bill 1, the roughly $25 billion state spending plan for the 2012-2013 year, included a Senate amendment that slashed state support for arts and culture by about $500,000, reducing the already paltry pickings to just under $2 million combined for DAF and SAG.

The proposed funding in HB 1, which will likely be signed today by Gov. Bobby Jindal, represents a steady and dramatic erosion in state support for arts and culture, which as a combined economic engine accounts for millions of dollars annually in tax revenue through tourism and other forms of cultural commerce. In 2009, before Jindal and state lawmakers blew a $1 billion budget surplus, combined funding for DAF and SAG was about $5 million.

The funding cut means that regional grant-distribution agencies like the Acadiana Center for the Arts will have about one third less revenue to distribute in their areas. There are nine such hubs for distributing state arts funding, the AcA included, and those agencies will have to make some difficult choices moving forward; namely, whether to distribute fewer grants or the same number of grants but in smaller amounts. Either way, one third less is one third less, and some small-town museums, festivals, community theater groups and other arts/culture agencies will no doubt be shuttered.

Gerd Wuestemann, the AcA's executive director, says he anticipates two things as a result of the cuts: "Some of the smaller organizations that do good work, especially in the more rural areas, may have to close doors," he says. "And I think it will result in fewer [a/c] projects and less income to the communities and less vibrancy in our lifestyle, and I think that's a shame."

A sham(e), indeed.

The current state of arts funding represents an unyielding assault on Louisiana culture by JindalCo, which annually proposes draconian cuts to a/c. The proposed funding level of just under $2 million is where the governor has envisioned state support for the arts. In 2009 the AcA distributed more than $230,000 to arts/culture producers in the eight-parish Acadiana region. By 2010 that level had fallen by about $30,000. But Wuestemann says even then the AcA's distribution of arts grants made an impact: "In 2010, we distributed $200,000 that resulted in 1,500 activities - performances or shows - and employed 1,000 local artists and were seen by 200,000 people. So, if you think about that, it's $1 per person to have access in rural areas to cultural activities. That is a phenomenal return on investment - it feeds local economies; it produces tax money for local coffers; it produces social profit and quality of life, oftentimes creating the only access to arts and culture in local parishes."

In the coming year Wuestemann anticipates the center will have about $120,000 to spread among the many a/c groups. Proponents of robust state funding for the arts argue that such support has a significant return on investment - 7/1 by most estimates, meaning for every dollar the state invests in arts/culture it earns $7 in tax revenue from the cultural economy, tourism primarily. Unfortunately, myopic lawmakers often see arts and culture as a luxury.

"I have a feeling that with this cut we will further weaken the cultural infrastructure of the state," Wuestemann predicts. "And I think that'll reduce our ability to attract tourists, our ability to keep our best and brightest talents here, and in the long run I think it will endanger our communities because in my opinion culture is not just something you do in Louisiana, it's very much more the fabric of communities; it's our greatest tourist attraction, one of strongest export articles and I think it feeds us financially in the state."