State Arts Agencies Refuse to Die

One state arts agency barely escapes extinction, while another returns to life.
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Last year, as they grappled with falling tax revenues, a number of governors proposed eliminating their state’s arts agency. As we reported, arts advocates responded with alarm, fearing the loss of a vital resource that provides grass-roots organizations needed money (including federal funds, which are distributed through the agencies), as well as information and assistance.

It turns out these organizations aren’t all that easy to kill. In recent days, one such agency has returned after a brief hiatus, while another, which was shut down a year ago, has resumed operations in a slightly different form.

This week, the South Carolina House and Senate voted to override Gov. Nikki Haley’s proposal to cut the state Arts Commission’s entire $1.9 million budget. The commission was forced to close its doors when funding ran out July 1st, but its website reports it is once again open.

It is wasting no time in getting back to the nitty gritty: Its next project is a July 21 workshop in Sumter designed to educate leaders of small arts organizations. Topics will include what is expected of board members, and how to divide responsibilities between the board of an organization and its staff.

That’s precisely the sort of unsexy but important assistance these agencies provide.

Meanwhile, things are also looking up for the arts in Kansas, which became the first-ever state to defund its arts commission in 2012. The state’s new annual budget, which took effect July 1st, includes $700,000 for the new Creative Arts Industries Commission, which combines the former Arts Commission with the Kansas Film Commission.

This means that Kansas, which lost access to federal arts funds when it closed the Arts Commission, will once again be eligible for this money, beginning in July 2013.

What's the matter with Kansas? A number of things, arguably, but a lack of state support for the arts is no longer one of them.

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