Walter Pierce

Lawmakers undo Jindal arts cuts

by Walter Pierce

Arts councils, arts presenters and artists statewide are breathing a sigh of relief and keeping their collective fingers crossed after the state House Appropriations Committee this week restored $3.3 million to Decentralized Arts Funding, the state’s principal means of distributing grant funding to artistic and cultural endeavors administered by both public and private entities. The restoration is the full 83 percent of funding the Jindal administration cut from the budget. It came through an amendment by Rep. John Schroder, a Convington Republican, to House Bill 1, the massive appropriations bill that funds state government for the next fiscal year.

The amended HB1 still has many stops to go before reaching the governor’s desk. It goes next week before the full house, then to the senate finance committee, the full senate, and then back to the house. But Lafayette Rep. Page Cortez, a member of the appropriations committee, is cautiously optimistic the amendment will remain intact. “It still has a long way to go to get through the process,” Cortez says, “but we feel pretty good the DAF funding will stay in there.” House Bill one is expected to reach the full house next Thursday. There were no objections to Schroder’s amendment among the 25 members of the appropriations committee.

“Of course we are thrilled that the House Appropriations Committee understood the significance of the economic and cultural impact these cuts would have,” says Gerd Wuestemann, executive director of the Acadiana Center for the Arts. “This is a very, very small investment — a tiny piece of the entire budget — with extraordinarily big repercussions throughout the state, even in the most rural areas.”

The state arts community erupted in late March when news of the cuts spread, with expression of outrage ranging from angry and pleading letters to lawmakers to a jazz funeral for the arts attended by hundreds in downtown Baton Rouge on April 1. By many accounts, Louisiana’s so-called “cultural economy” and the tourism it draws account for the second-largest contribution to the overall state economy.