Arts Funding

Cutting Funds for the Arts by Jeannine Cook

Government and other bodies turn to cutting funds for the arts again and again. It is an almost monotonous - but oh so sad - "official announcement".  I was reminded forcibly of this as I read headlines this week in the Spanish press about more cuts in the arts budgets, and at the same time, that Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, is considering closing its Visual Arts Department.  Just two small examples of this continual drumbeat of cuts to lessen any country's chances of a cultured, civilised society within its borders and beyond.

The powers that be find it easy to forget that the arts get people involved in science, mathematics, geometry, history, language, social sciences in general, and on and on. You find this out in spite of yourself any time you engage in art-making or art viewing, whether you conscientiously realise it or not.  Everyone in power mouths platitudes about wanting their country's inhabitants to be better educated, to be able better to face a far more complicated future in the ever-expanding global marketplace.  Yet the optics on how better to ensure a suitable education to achieve well-rounded, versatile and competent human beings seem to become narrower and more impoverished in so many instances.  The image below, courtesy of the Guardian newpaper in the UK, says it well.

Artists Mark Wallinger, left, David Shrigley and Jeremy Deller, right, lobby cent cuts in arts funding, in London, September 2010. Photograph: Alastair Grant / AP

Artists Mark Wallinger, left, David Shrigley and Jeremy Deller, right, lobby cent cuts in arts funding, in London, September 2010. Photograph: Alastair Grant / AP

I could not help thinking about how I would cope in life if I had not had the good fortune to be introduced, as eary as possible, to the arts.  In East Africa, museums, concert halls, and art galleries were virtually non-existent when I was growing up, but that did not prevent my being taken to the wonderful top art and natural history museums when I first went to Europe at the age of five, as well as to ballet performances, concerts.  Soon afterwards, theatre-going was also introduced, while my reading included wonderful illustrated books, full of beauty. Had I not started out in this way, I would now find daily life far more limited, more complicated.  Just a small example: in the process of redoing a bathroom, the multiple choices one has to make of tiles, faucets, styles of hand basin, finish of towel rails, etc., would be so much harder had I not been allowed to develop an innate sense of style and design.  My own style and design, of course, for each of us is an individual: nonetheless, an ensemble which ultimately produces an effect, a statement, a type of bathroom. The interesting thing is that other people then also can relate to those choices made, because, when said and done, there is an underlying tissue of culture uniting us, a tissue that can be fostered and improved when people can have access to examples of the different arts.

Just to carry my example a little further about the bathroom:  if people have been given a decent grounding in the arts during their education, they then have far more confidence in themselves when it comes to making esthetic choices.  When decorating their home, for instance, it would not be so necessary to call on the services of interior decorators (not that I have anything against interior decorators for they perform valuable services), simply to feel comfortable about the choices they are making.

Ultimately, having access to education about and exposure to the arts in general empowers people.  At a time when individuals need all the tools and knowlege we can muster to push back against abusive power structures, it seems almost machaevellian to cut funding for the arts.

The Financial Rewards of Art and Culture by Jeannine Cook

It is not an easy time to be a member of the arts community, no matter what role each of us plays in it. On a personal level, one's colleagues all talk of funding difficulties, slow art sales, diminished public support. In the press, there are frequent reports of slashed funding for the arts and culture; today, I was reading that the Prado Museum in Madrid, flagship of Spain's museums, has had its Government support cut by six million euros and counting. Hard times... but at least the Prado is fighting back. They are now going to open seven days a week, something to celebrate.

Yet at the same time, I stumbled on a report on today's HuffPost Detroit of a report released about the impact of the arts and culture on Michigan's economy which makes one think. Some 221 arts organisations in Michigan shared their economic data to help formulate the Michigan Cultural Data Project, which analyses, on an on-going and ever-wider basis, what effect the arts have on this American state's economy. The figures are eloquent - for every dollar spent by the Michigan State on arts and culture, five-one ($51) dollars are returned to the state economy. That is quite a return.

That is the sort of message that all governments need to hear. Europeans seem more receptive to such information because they have always been keenly aware of tourist returns on investment in their cultural riches. Americans, on the whole, seem a little less aware of the huge impact that a vibrant arts scene can have - hence the importance of such information as that generated in Michigan. Even in today's less than cheery financial news coming out of Davos, Switzerland, there are ways to enhance the quality of our lives in terms of arts and culture.

Prayers answered - for now - with Georgia Council for the Arts by Jeannine Cook

For this year, at least, the Georgia Council for the Arts exists, albeit in leaner form. The last day of the Georgia legislative session saw the passage of a 2011 budget which included funding for the arts. Hallelujah!

In fairness for having used this blog to inveigh about the dangers to the arts in Georgia, I will quote the open letter that the Head of Georgia Council for the Arts, Susan Weiner, has just sent out.

An Open Letter to Georgia’s Artists, Arts Organizations, and Arts Patrons

Congratulations! Your efforts kept Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA) alive. Your exercise of political will is responsible for our state continuing to have a state arts agency. GCA was the recipient of thousands of emails and telephone calls from you and fellow Georgians. And, we received scores more from around this nation.

We know what Georgia would be like without the arts. We must remember to tell others, because the State of Georgia will face at least another year of fiscal constraints due to this recession. Yes, it is possible that GCA could be threatened again next year.

What would Georgia be like without the arts? Here are some of the answers we read in your emails.

Economic Impact
· GCA awards in FY 2009 of $3.9 M returned over $6.1 M to our counties and cities sales tax revenues. GCA grantees made money for Georgia.
· The Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP study showed a $376 M economic impact to the state, with only 98 GCA grantees participating

Community Development
· A nonprofit arts organization is the fifth-largest employer in Miller County; the home of the state’s beloved Swamp Gravy
· Renovation of downtown buildings for the non-profit Averitt Arts Center motivated the private investment of an additional $14 M to that city’s vitality
· Last Sunday, the Morris Museum offered free entrance to 1,000 visitors made possible because by its GCA award

Federal & Regional Dollars
· Some of Georgia’s taxpayers’ dollars going to Washington DC will return to be invested at home
· NEA State Partnership Grant and South Arts regional grants to artists and arts organizations will continue to provide support

Arts Education
· Davidson Arts Magnet School ranked 1st in the state in SAT scores 4 of last 5 years and demonstrates the value of arts education
· Over 30,000 students benefited from in-school and after-school arts education by the Alliance Theatre because of the GCA award; tens of thousands of students across the state enjoyed similar benefit
· Georgia was ranked second in the nation for student participation in the national Poetry Out Loud competition

Arts Industry
· Georgia is ranked third in US for arts employment, almost 90,000 artists
· There are almost 20,000 arts-related businesses Georgia based on Dunn & Bradstreet, Inc. research
· Georgia’s art industry is in the for-profit, not-for-profit, and self-employed sectors of our economy; our state’s artists work in all three sectors

Tourism & Film Industries
· Cultural Heritage Tourism is the fastest growing and most revenue-generating form of tourism
· Georgia has benefited from recognition through the Emmy, Oscar, Grammy, and Tony awards won by Georgia’s artists
· Without Georgia’s artists (ex., actors, graphic designers, lighting and scene painting artists and technicians, film editors, animators, costumiers, writers), would our state have a tourism, film, and digital industry?

We owe a debt of gratitude to those legislators who understand these reasons and one more: it is the arts that cultivate our ingenuity, creativity, and humanity. It is these traits will lead Georgia into a more prosperous future.


I think the letter makes an eloquent case for the arts, not only here in Georgia but anywhere in the world. We would all be enriched greatly if the arts were regarded more as society's lifeblood and sustainer of civil discourse.

Prayer for the health of the Arts, Georgia style by Jeannine Cook

It seems that lots of prayers and incantations still need to be offered if the Georgia Council for the Arts is to survive in Georgia. The fate of the arts apparently hangs by a single thread in the review of the budget, and that thread is reportedly Representative Jerry Keen, from St Simons Island, Georgia.

In an area where the arts not only form an integral part of the community (for both local residents and retirees who have made this area home) but are a lifeline to young people who would otherwise be frequently handicapped in terms of art experiences, this is sad and amazing. I find it so strange that politicians deem it "wise" and "responsible" to impoverish the quality of their fellow citizens' lives, particularly at a time when any uplifting experiences that the arts could bring are needed to offset daily economic concerns. How short-sighted!

The fact that Georgia would become the only state in the US without any state arts agency, thus foregoing any federal supporting dollars, would seem to be very poor business sense as well. Bad publicity for Georgia, bad investment policies in terms of attracting tourists to the state, terrible messages to Georgia's youth about elected officials' concerns for their future success. How does one attract investments and new business to come to Georgia when the quality of life is manifestly of no importance whatsoever?

It is time that Representative Jerry Keen and his fellow elected politicians think a little more as statesmen and remember that life in Georgia is more than just the next election cycle. Particularly when the next election for Representative Keen falls due this year...

The Arts and Young People by Jeannine Cook

On Sundays, I frequently listen with fascination and pleasure to the NPR programme, "From the Top", hosted by Christopher O'Riley, during which amazingly talented young people play classical music and talk with Christopher. This past Sunday, a delicious young woman, aged nine, was interviewed and then played Franz Liszt's Gromenreigen (Dance of the Gnomes). Her name is Umi Garrett and she is garnering prizes and kudos both in the United States and Europe for her mastery of the piano. What interested me and resonated especially was that her early talent for music was also accompanied, from 2 1/2 years old, by classical ballet. She also loves to paint and is good at maths, science and a host of other things.

In other words, she is a stellar example of what can happen when a young person is exposed to the best in what the arts can offer. It is not just in school that children need to be exposed to the arts, it is in everyday life, in every imaginable sphere. This is one area where it becomes so serious that the Georgia Legislature envisages elimination of the Georgia Council for the Arts, the central state funding mechanism that fosters the arts. When possibilities for young people to attend performances of music, ballet or theatre, to visit art museums, galleries or festivals or learn of new forms of art in the public arena dry up, the general level of culture is diminished.

I know personally how memorable live performances can be to a child. Growing up on a farm in Tanzania, there were few such opportunities. It was thus all the more special that on my first trip to England, my mother made a special effort to ensure that I was able to see the Royal Ballet dancing Swan Lake. I was five years old - it was magical - and I have loved ballet ever since. In the same way, a year or so later, the legendary pianist, Paul Badura-Skoda, came to our nearby town, Arusha, to visit his brother. He was persuaded to give a piano recital, in a small theatre with a tin roof ... it rained during his performance and the din above seemed only to underline the exquisiteness of his interpretations of Chopin or Mozart pieces. That evening was one of the most memorable moments of my life - I was so excited that I was soon learning to play the piano myself, not at all well, I hasten to add. But the whole experience helped make me forever a lover of music.

This  recording was made about the time I firstheard Paul Badure Skoda play the piano.

This  recording was made about the time I firstheard Paul Badure Skoda play the piano.

I was lucky - my family made the effort to give me such opportunities. But in Georgia, if opportunities for young people dry up, then we are all the poorer.

Elimination of the Georgia Council of the Arts, take two by Jeannine Cook

Give artists a few hours to get organised, and the angry buzz rises to a crescendo! It seems that the e-mails are flying around Georgia about the likelihood that the Legislature will "zero" out the Georgia Council for the Arts. My e-mail in-box is filling up fast as everyone tries to contact anyone who is likely to protest this decision to the Senate.

The more one thinks about this choice of "economising" to close the huge budget gap in the State budget, the less impressed one becomes about the arithmetical prowess of the legislators. I understand that the overall return for every dollar invested in the arts in Georgia is threefold and counting. That would suggest a very decent rate of return that anyone would welcome in, say, the stock exchange. In a time when everyone is hoping and praying that the economy revives and people find jobs, it seems sad indeed that a very diffuse but real economical stimulus source be eliminated. The arts are not just one single industry, unlike carpet-making or insurance or many other economical activities. The arts are incredibly diverse, spread out all over the State, even in the most remote corners. They engender the most varied of activities: they bring tourists, fill restaurants and hotels, give business to gas stations, art, clothing and hardware stores. The list is as varied as one's imagination, but all these different transactions and actions help drive the economy.

To use an extreme example: imagine New York without theatres, museums, concert halls. What would that city be like? Each of those jewels in New York's crown exist because there is some form of financial assistance to supplement the direct ticket sales or entrance fees, for these can never cover all costs. Most enlightened places, cities, states or countries, recognise that the hallmark of a civilised society includes support for the many forms of art. This support is not only a good investment financially, but it is also an investment in future generations' successful education. It also ensures citizens' ability to find intellectual stimulation, joy, serenity, fascination, amusement – that can lift them out of their own lives for however brief a moment.

It is hard to understand how Georgia's legislators can be so unaware of the incredibly negative and damaging consequences of kicking out the underpinnings from Georgia's arts. I hope the angry buzz of the arts-appreciating citizens of this State gets through to the Senators and Governor and persuades them not to be utter philistines.

Elimination of Georgia Council for the Arts and related Arts Funding by Jeannine Cook

Eliminating Georgia Council for the Arts is apparently the "enlightened" way in which the Georgia Legislature is closing a budget gap for 2011. The budget for the arts was first slashed almost to nothing and then, yesterday, the vote passed the House to "zero" the Arts. Nothing, nada, niente - Georgia now will lead the way in the nation in NOT HAVING A STATE ARTS AGENCY. Wonderful!

Not only does this mean that the activities usually funded by the Council for the Arts will not now be supported. It means that National Endowment for the Arts funding cannot be received either - perhaps part of the assertion of the anti-Washington ethos? More importantly for the large swaths of Georgia who are not endowed with Atlanta's resources, it means that they will receive no Grassroots Arts Programme funds. These GAP monies have not been huge sums distributed to each county on a per capita basis for the past fifteen or more years, but they have been vital seed money. Countless small arts groups have been able to enrich their communities, young and old, with music, dance and theatre performances, art exhibitions and other visual art activities. The communities devised the programmes and applied for the funding on an annual, competitive basis. The arts funding was thus able to perform a magical multiplier effect at the grass roots of Georgia, and everyone benefited from a small but vital investment of tax dollars. This "cultural fertiliser" especially enriched the younger portion of each county, so important for many rural areas.

How can the level of education be raised for Georgia's youth if music, theatre, art and everything in between are defunded, eliminated and, by implication, made of no importance? Georgia is already lamentably far down the ladder of general academic achievement. In their dubious wisdom, Georgia's legislators are ensuring that not only will Georgia be the laughing stock of the nation in terms of culture; it will also slip further down the ranking of student achievement. Apparently legislators do not understand the vital inter-connectedness of the arts and learning about maths, geometry, literature, and science.

One of the many Georgia cultural institiutions dependent to some measure on Georgia Council for the Arts

One of the many Georgia cultural institiutions dependent to some measure on Georgia Council for the Arts

The faint remaining hope of reversing this amazingly sad decision basically rests on Governor Perdue's shoulders. Alas, I am not holding my breath.

Welcome to Georgia, y'all! Don't count on finding a thriving cultural scene in Georgia.