January 30, 2017; KCCI-TV (Des Moines, IA)

Lawmakers in Iowa are looking to help close a gap in the state budget by draining the Iowa Cultural Trust Fund. Started in 2002 as a way to ensure a consistent funding stream for Iowa arts programs, there is currently a little over $6 million in the fund. Governor Terry Branstad feels that very little interest is gained from the fund, from which grants are designated, so it’s worth draining the fund to fill the budget gap rather than eliminating jobs of state employees.

The full state budget shortfall is $110 million. According to some lawmakers, Iowa’s state budget has this gap because of spending by previous elected officials. The Trust Fund was targeted as a possible source of dollars because it doesn’t offer many grants—in some years totaling less than $250,000. The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs says that only small grants are made from the Cultural Trust because the funds are not in an aggressive growth investment plan. Without a lot of growth on the principal, there is not much interest to draw from for grants. K-12 education funding and Medicare funding, the two largest line items in the budget, are untouched. Republican lawmakers have countered the governor’s budget with a bill that would not only drain the Cultural Trust Fund but would eliminate $211,000 from the Cultural Trust budget as well.

Causing further concern are the indications that the current presidential administration will cut funding for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). A portion of all NEA funding goes to each state. Iowa arts organization representatives cite NEA grants as a critical component for launching creative projects. Announcement of an NEA grant is often used as leverage to attract additional funding from other foundations and community funds. Those in favor of cuts to arts funding at the national and state levels think financial support for the arts would then come from private donations. Others pose the argument that the arts should be separate from the government in terms of funding. Yet, if one holds that art should be something for every citizen, funding from local, state, and federal budgets ensures wider access for all.

The Iowa Arts Council funded arts projects and programs in more than 500 locations across the state in 2016. That number could be cut in half without further NEA funding. This is not only an issue for programs that bring arts to underserved communities. Arts festivals and performances that were destination events may not be able to continue. This would have further negative consequences for the local communities that drew tourism dollars from those festivals and performances. Perhaps more importantly, these festivals and performances, such as Jazz in July, bring people from different backgrounds and belief systems together—and that’s needed now more than ever.—Kelley Malcolm