July 24, 2012; Source: Stateline (Pew Center on the States)

The news service for the Pew Center on the States reports that “there has been a 37 percent drop in funding for state arts agencies since 2001.” However, a creative repackaging of the arts as an economic engine has, in some states, reversed this trend over the last year. The argument for government support of the arts was strengthened by a June report commissioned by Americans for the Arts that suggests nonprofit arts and culture activities create 4.13 million full-time jobs and $6.67 billion in state tax money.

As NPQ noted last year, with his line-item veto, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback killed off his state’s arts commission and made his state the first to discontinue arts funding. Now, however, he has made an about face, proposing a “Creative Arts Industries Commission” to promote business-generating cultural activity. The Kansas legislature more than tripled Brownback’s proposed funding for the agency.

In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley similarly axed her state’s arts commission, vetoing all funding for the last two years, but each time, the state legislature overrode her veto in a move that some see as a sign of bipartisan support for arts funding. “When we debate arts funding, we’re talking about arts as it ties into tourism and quality of life. It’s big business,” says state Sen. Wes Hayes, co-chair of the South Carolina legislature’s arts caucus.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s state arts agency saw a 366.8 percent funding increase this fiscal year. According to State Budget Director John Nixon, “In order to have a robust economic climate you’ve got to have a robust quality of life, and the arts are a big part of that…The money gets distributed and multiplied as it goes throughout the state.”

Overall, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) estimates a nearly nine percent increase in state arts funding this budget year. NASAA may be partially responsible for the successful defense of arts funding. Its 2009 report, “Tough Times: Advocacy Strategies in an Economic Downturn,” exhorted its constituents to push the dollars-and-cents argument. “The advocate’s arsenal,” the report said, “includes economic arguments that demonstrate how governmental support for the arts stimulates giving from the private sector, how the arts contribute to consumer spending, and how the arts fuel economic growth.” If governmental funding was more often driven by such growth policies instead of partisan political bickering, the overall economy might be in much better shape than it is. –Louis Altman