I attended two events Wednesday in Hartford about arts funding in Connecticut and taken together they speak of new -- and troubling -- ways the state is attempting to deal with its cultural treasures.
The first event was an "arts forum," one of several that are being held around the state and presented by the Department of Economic and Community Development. (The former Commission of Culture and Tourism is now part of that department.)
Kip Bergstrom, the deputy commissioner, told the packed house at the Wadsworth Atheneum, that the DECD was changing the way it would give out its money to arts and heritage organizations.
Instead of taking the modest few million it had and giving out operational grants, it would make those funds available for high profile projects that would help invigorate cities. There would still be some money available for operational grants available through the long-standing state arts endowment whose spin-off money must be distributed for that purpose. (One could guess that if the DECD could get its mitts on those funds it would be transferred to the DECD's new big bang theory. Thank goodness for legislative directives.)
But don't get me wrong. Money for high-profile cultural initiatives is a terrific idea -- and everything Bergstrom said about such projects to make cities and towns appealing and exciting to young entrepreneurs and their families is right -- and he has data to back it up.
But not at the expense of desperately needed funds to just help places keep their lights on.
The second event was a public hearing at the LOB by legislators on the governor's budget as it pertains to the cultural and other tourist-friendly places -- specifically the "line items" that go directly to an exclusive group of cukltural and tourism-centric institutions.
Like Gov. M. Jodi Rell before him (ouch!), Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants these $11 million in line items -- this is a much larger number than the measley few million the commission used to hand out -- eliminated in the new budget.
Not to worry, says the DECD. New money would be put into DECD's marketing budget that the cultural groups can tap into. But there is no assurance that these indirect funds could come close to replace the loss of real-needs revenue that these arts groups have depended on for years and now desperately depend on in a tough economy where corporate funding for the arts has flown Connecticut's coop.
Arts leader spoke out against the economic rug being pulled out from under their institutions. In many cases these were six-figure amounts that would be a challenge -- that's a nice way of saying "no way" -- to replace.
The legislators seemed sympathetic and the guessing is that they would try to restore the funding for these earmarks. (They may be less effective in restoring operational grant money for culture and heritage at DECD.)
By the way, a 10-year plan to gradually decrease this type of entitled funding and transfer those earmarked funds to the old commission for operational grants -- was made a decade ago. And ignored. (It would have been completed by now if enacted.)
While Malloy's efforts to use the arts in way to dramatically market and invigorate the state's cities -- and also make state arts funding more equitable -- is a good one, his method is, well, if not madness than especially inelegant.
Kill the International Festival of Arts & Ideas subsidy right away and you kill the New Haven festival.
Zero out the funding to New Haven's Shubert, Watetbury's Palace and the Stamford Center for the Arts and you effectively eliminate programs and jobs.
One can onlly guess what Mark Twain would say from the state eliminating its support to keep the the old boy's doors openat his house (and Harriet's, too).
It's nice to have new marketing dollars for an "I ♥ Connecticut Culture" campaign.
But there will less culture to ;hearts& without even a modest safety net for the state's treasures.
As a side note: There were executive directors of some of the state's arts councils who spoke out at the public hearing at LOB but the absence of one raised a few questions.
The wife of the goveernor, Cathy Malloy, the new CEO of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, was not at the hearing as her organiozation faced a $95,000 loss in state funding. A spokesman for the council said that one of the conditions of Malloy's hire was that she not having to be an advocate in a poitiocal arena. Board members were working behind the scenes with legislators to restore the cuts, I was told.
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