What you've been hearing about state arts cuts around the nation is unfortunately true.
But Utah arts officials, while not burying their heads in the sand, count their blessings that Utah's economy is relatively strong and its legislators' dedication to the arts has resulted in funding raises, rather than cuts.First the bad news: In Massachusetts, arts council funding shrank from $24.5 million in 1989 to $12.6 million in 1990, with $3.6 million suggested in 1991.
In New York, Gov. Mario Cuomo has proposed slashing the state Council on the Arts budget by 56 percent, to $28.4 million. In Virginia, the Commission on the Arts is facing an 81 percent cut, to $1 million.
In Texas, a 40 percent cut in arts funding has been proposed. In Pennsylvania, a 25 percent cut is in the works (a prospect that already has the Pennsylvania Ballet on the ropes). The New Jersey Council on the Arts is facing only an 8 percent cut, but it took a 41 percent hit last year.
In Michigan, all arts money has been frozen and the state Council for the Arts faces termination as a grant-giving agency, reducing its powers to an advisory level.
According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, state arts funding nationwide declined from $292.3 million in fiscal 1990 to $268.2 million in fiscal 1991. The 8.2 percent dip marked the first drop in total funding since the 1970s. With most state budgets still in the haggling stage, no figures are yet available for fiscal 1992, but all signs point to an accelerating decline.
The reasons behind the cuts are not hard to find: falling revenues, rising costs, jumbo state deficits - recession.
But arts officials say their budget reductions are far larger than other state agencies, which are on average taking 10 percent to 15 percent cuts. Many attribute this to fallout from the recent National Endowment for the Arts controversy, or the "arts as frills" attitude of many hard-pressed state governments.
Arts officials in the East expressed dismay and even despair. In Boston, long a cultural mecca, Linda Hiltz spoke for the Massachusetts Cultural Council (and for the nation). "If the cuts go through and institutions close down, that will hit the state and (Boston) very hard. People still see the arts as non-essential and for the elite. They don't get it that the arts bring in so much money via tourism, via federal dollars, via jobs (and are) a healing, strengthening element."
In New York City, where the arts are a major, if not the major, tourist draw, the funding squeeze is coming from many directions. Besides cuts to the Arts Council, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, which supports many arts institutions and organizations, has reduced its spending by 10 percent. Funds flowing into city arts from the NEA have declined from $39 million in 1988 to $30.8 million in 1990, with no leveling off in sight.
By congressional directive, the NEA must allocate up to 35 percent of its funding directly to the states by 1993. So far, it has allotted $90,000 to each state. This spells hardship to big arts organizations in big cities. For instance, New York's dance program suffered a $242,000 loss in order to effect the reallocation.
In Michigan, which faces a $1.1 billion deficit, Gov. John Engler has made clear that he considers support of the arts the duty of the private sector. Facing elimination of an $11 million grant, many arts organizations are already going under. More than 12,000 arts events around the state have been canceled.
Said Samuel Sachs II, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, "If I were to try to imagine how to make Michigan economically uncompetitive, I couldn't think of a better way than to turn it into a cultural wasteland."
Now for the good news: The 1990 Utah Legislature gave the Utah Arts Council $2,016,900 to support its grants program, a 1.7 percent increase over last year. Also, $917,600 was earmarked for State Office of Education school programming by Utah Symphony, Ballet West, Utah Opera and the modern dance companies - Repertory Dance Theatre, Ririe-Woodbury and Children's Dance Theatre. This is up 36 percent from last year's $674,500. An additional $400,000 was allotted from supplemental funds to further support programming by the above arts organizations, leading to a total increase of 91 percent.
Cuts have been most severe in the Northeastern states, hardest hit by recession, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Elsewhere, 38 states have reported increases in fiscal year 1991 appropriations. Wyoming and Idaho have both enjoyed major increases in funding, and Wyoming has allocated a $500,000 endowment fund.
Assessing Utah's situation as to arts support, Arts Council director Carol Nixon was cautiously optimistic, both nationally and locally. She takes comfort in the fact that economic indicators suggest this recession will be short and recovery may already be taking place. And there is general hope and expectation that Utah will not feel the full sting of hard times.
Nixon also relies on long-held attitudes of Utahns that the arts are worthwhile and deserve a high priority. "Utah had the first state arts agency in the nation, and it is the first to have its own arts endowment fund, begun in 1990 with a legislative allocation of $2.3 million," she said.
Perhaps the operating success and stability of Utah arts in time of trouble comes from the arts establishment's basic frugality in all times. There are few posh budgets among Utah arts organizations and little mismanagement. Utah arts have never been spoiled by government's oversubscription but are used to operating mean and lean, making meaningful and profitable connections with the private sector and generally making do.
What you have never had, you don't miss. And legislators tend to admire and support organizations that need only a little help to do a lot more with what they already have - another legacy of attitude from the pioneers, which appears to keep Utah arts out of deep trouble.