Arts funding down in state despite income possibilities

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LANSING — When the state’s economy is suffering, cutting support for industries that generate substantial employment and tax revenue seems illogical— yet that’s happening in the arts and culture realm, an advocacy group says.
According to ArtServe, a Wixom-based advocacy group, public funding for the arts and culture has decreased by more than 93 percent in the past eight years in Michigan.
John Bracey, executive director of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA), the principal state agency working with such nonprofit organizations, said that funding this year increased slightly to $2.3 million from $2.1 million in 2010.
In 1995, Michigan’s investment in arts and culture hit a high of $30.8 million, according to ArtServe.
Bracey said that while the council received a little more money than in 2010 because of a slight increase in state funding and a larger grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, funding may reach a new low next year.
He said that the council could be disappearing next year, primarily because of lost federal grant aid.
Mike Latvis, director of public policy at ArtServe, said the state receives about $800,000 to $900,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, and that amount could drop by 10 to 12 percent due to funding cuts.
Despite efforts to completely defund the endowment, he said he’s confident that there will be a fight at to keep the same level of funding.
At the same time, he predicts no state funding increase in the near future.
“We’re probably about another year and half, two years away from the Legislature being in a position to increase arts funding. We’re hopeful that once things kinds come back around, support for the arts will come back as well,” he said.
Regardless of funding cuts, economic contributions from arts organizations remain substantial, especially in tourism, he said.
According to ArtServe, In Michigan there are more than 21,059 arts-related businesses with more than 75,000 employees. These businesses contribute to the $1.8 billion annually in revenue from arts and cultural tourism and $1.5 billion in personal income taxes.
Bracey said those numbers aren’t as high as they could be because of decreases in funding.
“If you were to look at our 2002 numbers, you would see that our clients — not the entire sector — probably had around 14,000 to 15,000 full-time employees. This year, there were less than 9,000 full-time employees,” he said.
He said that programs that don’t generate revenue, like arts education programs, also have been cut significantly.
Programs that are facility-based, like museums, have also been hurt, as well as performing organizations, he said.
According to Bracey, the number of days and hours that such places are open and the number of performances by such organizations have been greatly reduced.
“What these organizations offer to citizens in terms of concerts or plays to see — my guess is that there’s a lot less experimenting going on,” he said.
He said that these organizations now present shows they know can fill seats.
While focusing solely on filling seats may not be the best artistic choice, according Bracey, it helps the economy and tourism.
Dave Lorenz, managing director of Travel Michigan, said recognition of the arts as a draw for tourists is a recent trend. He said that less funding for the arts may not necessarily mean fewer tourists.
Travel Michigan is the state’s official tourism promotion agency.
“I’m pretty sure that the Pure Michigan campaign will help offset any negative impact that a lack of funding might bring about,” he said.
He said that there are areas where cultural tourism is becoming a more critical part of the local economy, like in West Michigan.
Last year, Grand Rapids’ citywide art competition, Art Prize, drew more than 200,000 visitors, 50 percent from out state.
Lorenz said other programs combine art, tourism, and economic development.
For example, Grand Haven has an art walk that is a direct spinoff from Art Prize.
He said that Travel Michigan is bringing more attention to Michigan as a unique arts-and-crafts destination by inviting prominent arts and cultural writers to the state for media tours.
“We’re a very culturally rich state, much more so than people would think — great places like the Detroit Institute of Arts are helping to bring in new awareness of the quality of the artist and artwork in the state,” he said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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