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florida arts budget cuts are anamolous

Post #185 • January 8, 2004, 10:29 AM • 3 Comments

This morning in the New York Times, Stephen Kinzer reports that nationally, cuts to state arts budgets were not as drastic as feared. Sixteen states cut their arts budgets less than 10%, and eighteen others kept them the same or increased them. California (90% cut), Michigan (50%), and Florida (80%) were the only states that cut their budgets by more than $10 million. The losses in these three states represent two-thirds of the total national loss. This has me scratching my Floridian head about two things: why did this happen to us, and what did we do wrong?

Item one:

Robert L. Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, said that arts budgets tend to follow the rise and fall of state economies. "Not all economies are as bad as California or Michigan or Florida, and that's why you aren't seeing such big slashes," Mr. Lynch said. "Arts funding went down in the last few years because of Sept. 11, the economic downturn and the dot-com fallout. Now, with economies starting to recover and the stock market rising, arts budgets are better able to hold their own."

I didn't realize that the Florida economy was markedly worse than the rest of the nation. We don't have much of a tech industry down here, so the dot-bomb wouldn't affect us so badly. That leaves tourism, which took a big hit after 9-11, but the airlines are still in business and South Beach seems as packed as ever. Miami may be the poorest city in the country, but the whole state is not Miami. I'd appreciate it if someone could enlighten me about this.

Item two:

More typical is the experience in Kansas, where the state arts commission took a cut of only 1 percent. The commission has worked with citizens and an advocacy group based in Washington, Americans for the Arts, to prepare studies showing the effects of arts spending in specific communities. One study concluded that in Lawrence in 2001, cultural programs generated $33 million in economic activity, provided full-time jobs for 1,200 people and produced $1.5 million in state-tax revenue.

I thought this strategy was no longer working. Douglas McLennan in a special report to Newsweek last year said:

Playing art as economics forces you to play by economics' rules. That means drawing bigger audiences every year. That means improving your financial situation each quarter. And it means that others will continue to run their equations of profit and loss even when you'd rather they not (like now). Art may be a great economic investment, but if it's not an investment someone chooses to make, you're out of luck. Sorry, just business.

He may have been wrong, which would be nice - the money argument is a good one to use on people who have no inherent love of the arts. But didn't we make that case to Tallahassee? And here's something else (Kinzer again):

The successes in Kansas can be attributed partly to the use of more sophisticated lobbying techniques, Mr. Wilson said. "The Internet has had a big impact on our ability to tell our people what's happening in the Legislature, and to mobilize them to contact their own legislators," he said. "We've been able to reframe the argument, and that has really turned things around for us here in Kansas and, I believe, in other states as well."

For a while I was getting e-mails every day about the then-upcoming cuts from local arts advocates (especially Sherron Long from the Florida Cultural Alliance), who I'm sure were contacting their representatives more than they were contacting me.

The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies is one of several groups that gave local arts advocates advice on lobbying last year. In one mailing to members it provided tips on speaking to legislators. "Don't focus too much on the intangible benefits of your issue," the mailing said. "Understand what matters most to that politician and how the arts relate to their agenda. It may be the arts' role in promoting tourism or improving education or reducing crime. Experience has proven that the arts win attention when they are part of a broad agenda of public-policy concerns. Offer concrete information about the reach of the arts in your state and the impact of public funding."

Again, this has been the national M.O. since the NEA meltdown. I can't imagine our advocates were doing something different.

Many arts agencies have won over legislators by assuring them that their grants are not concentrated in big cities but spread statewide. Some, like the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, have even invited local legislators to pass out grant checks in public ceremonies.

"In the past most of our support was focused on Philadelphia and Pittsburgh," said Philip Horn, executive director of the Pennsylvania council. "That didn't give legislators from other areas much reason to be supportive, and it fed the impression that spending money on the arts is charity for the rich. Having these legislators hand out the checks might have seemed crass at first, but it's had a great impact in showing them how much these grants can do for local communities. It begins to change the image."

Tally is so far from Miami that you wouldn't think that our advocates were trying to make a case for the arts based solely on, say, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. I certainly never saw such a thing in all of those e-mails I got.

In the end, it doesn't add up. What went wrong in the Sunshine State?



John Link

January 9, 2004, 2:13 AM

Franklin ... nothing went wrong in Florida, just like nothing went wrong in my Michigan. The citizens just quit wasting their money on bad to mediocre art, or worse, weird shit that passes for art.

Way back when I was a young art bureaucrat I got up in arms during one of the Regan assaults on the NEA. An artist friend asked me "how often do they give that money to anyone who is good?" That question turned me around and ever since cuts to the arts budgets don't bother me at all.

To be sure, there was a time when government support of the arts worked, more or less. When it worked (somewhat) it was elitist, not pluralistic. For a good analysis try:

Even then, the hit rate was low and I doubt the mild success of the early NEA will be repeated. For the past 100 or so years, there just have not been any institutions that get it right. The question has always been whether they were totally wrong, or just mostly wrong.



January 9, 2004, 5:46 AM

John, I sympathize with your statements, but they presuppose that our politicians are exercising taste in their efforts to de-fund the arts, and I'm having a hard time picturing that. They're trying to take out the whole shebang, from the weird shit to the classical radio stations to the black box theater companies. Let's assume that they're rubes from sea to shining sea, or at least uniformly aesthetically aware. Why didn't the message get through in Florida and Michigan, while it got through in Kansas? That's what I can't figure out.


John LInk

January 12, 2004, 7:32 AM

Franklin, I can't figure out these funding results either. And I am adminttedly only looking at the visual arts and fully realize that is where they are at their worst. So (to qualify my recent wild statement), regarding the visual arts, I don't know how or why, but I see WHAT they are doing, and it usually stinks.



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