Last ditch effort to restore arts funding expected Monday

by Walter Pierce

The governor's proposed cuts to statewide arts funding were evidently not Draconian enough for the Legislature. Maneuvering to mitigate massive cuts - the state arts community characterizes them as fatal - to Decentralized Arts Funding and Statewide Arts Grants is expected today at the state Capitol as the House and Senate iron out House Bill 76, an ancillary appropriations bill that provides hundreds of millions of dollars for such agencies as a central regional laundry for state-operated health and mental health facilities, the Office of Risk Management and a state police training center. The Louisiana Partnership for Arts Advocacy, a statewide consortium of arts councils and other cultural agencies, hopes lawmakers can at the very least restore cuts to DAF and SAG meted out during the session that go far beyond the cuts proposed in Gov. Bobby Jindal's executive budget.

As it now stands, HB 1, the $26 billion state budget approved by the House on Sunday and sent to Jindal for his signature, cuts DAF funding by 45 percent, from $2.5 million to $1.4 million - in line with Jindal's proposed cut. SAG, however, will be slashed a crippling 85 percent, from $2.3 million to $340,000. In his executive budget submitted before the session began, Jindal proposed setting DAF funding at $1.4 million and SAG at  just over $939,000, funding levels which already represented drastic cuts; in the 2009-2010 fiscal year budget, DAF receives more than $2.3 million while SAG receives nearly $2.2 million.

In a plea sent via e-mail on Sunday to members urging them to contact lawmakers, the LPAA characterized Sunday's House approval of HB 1 as "a black day for culture in Louisiana," arguing that the cuts to DAF and SAG would kill arts agencies' ability to equitably fund local arts programming and could sound the death knell for some major arts organizations. Decentralized Arts Funding is distributed in local communities in the form of grants by arts councils like the Acadiana Center for the Arts; 95 percent of the funding supports local artists and programming. Statewide Arts Grants go to major arts organizations like the AcA, as well as to large groups like symphony orchestras.

Even if lawmakers restore the cuts that go beyond Jindal's budget - LPAA sources say Sens. Mike Michot of Lafayette and Mike Walsworth of West Monroe, both Republicans, will try through the Senate Finance Committee to do just that - arts programming on the local level is still likely to suffer a devastating blow. Supporters of arts funding in Louisiana argue that by choking the cultural economy, the Legislature is ensuring a lasting negative impact on the very thing that generates billions annually in the form of tourism to Louisiana. The state's Office of Culture, Recreation and Tourism has estimated that for every dollar spent by the state on the cultural economy, seven dollars are returned in the form of sales taxes and motel occupancy taxes. And the LPAA points out that the roughly $5 million in funding for DAF and SAG in the current budget, which expires at the end of June, is less than the cost of constructing a single mile of two-lane highway.