After a first quarter fraught with looming federal-level cuts to arts funding, artists and arts organizations statewide are breathing a sigh of relief.
The Arizona Commission on the Arts announced last week that a $1.5 million allotment will renew again through Fiscal Year 2018 after Governor Doug Ducey signed the state’s total $9.8 billion budget into law in March.
Though shy of the $2 million the Arizona Commission originally petitioned for, local agencies are glad for the renewed infusion derived from interest accrued on Arizona’s Rainy Day Fund. Heading into its 50th year as the state arts agency, Executive Director Robert Booker thanked advocators and legislators on both sides of the aisle.
But what does this mean for local artists and community members hoping to catch a concert or a gallery show?
At the peak of the Recession, continuous cuts reduced the Arizona Commission on the Arts’ General Fund to nothing by 2012. The $20 million Arizona ArtShare Endowment, built over twelve years with bipartisan support, followed — reducing the agency’s budget by 60 percent from FY2008-2012.
But the $1.5 million added in 2016 bumped the agency’s total budget to $2,318,600 — holding steady into 2018.
Organizations and artists all over the state apply for a share, especially represented by the agency’s Community Investment Grants. This type of grant, said Arizona Commission’s Communications Director Steve Wilcox, provides operating support to non-profits, local arts agencies, and tribal cultural organizations whose mission is to produce, present, teach or serve the arts.
In FY2017, 23 organizations in Coconino County, received funds from the agency. Non-profits including Canyon Movement Company, Grand Canyon Guitar Society and the Sedona Center for the Arts have benefited.
Through the CIG, the Flagstaff Arts Council added an unrestricted $28,000 contribution to its budget. Arts Council Executive Director John Tannous noted the non-profit doesn’t often receive unrestricted grant funds — those not earmarked for any specific purpose or programs.
Arts Commission’s funds were applied to staffing, enabling the group to bring a new member on board who manages specific programs.
“It really is an investment,” Tannous said. “When we talk to our legislators, we very much focus on that because without that funding the reality is we would have to cut staff, then we’d end up cutting programs.”
The Museum of Northern Arizona is the top grant recipient in all of Coconino County. FY2017 brought $47,000 to the museum’s general operating budget, which supports more than 450 programs, said Marketing Director Cristen Crujido.
The current fiscal year represents an uptick for recipients like MNA, which at one point received $60,000 from the Arizona Commission in FY2014 before dropping to $25,000 in 2016.
These fluctuations mark the changes to the commission’s overall budget deficits and recoupments — and thus the organizations.
For the Flagstaff Arts Council, Tannous explained cuts affected staff. The result was two-fold, Tannous said: deficient community benefit and a decreased ability to attract additional funds from national-level donors, like the National Endowment for the Arts.
Since, the council has been able to grow over the last two years to four full-time staff including Tannous and Deputy Director Elizabeth Vogler, plus a Marketing Director and Program Coordinator.
“That’s the number one way we’re able to provide for the community,” Tannous added. “We have a lot of volunteers, but we really do need to have paid staff.”
He explained agencies like the NEA pay close attention to grants doled on the state level, treating them as a preliminary vetting process.
The Arizona Commission awards grants based on the recommendations of independent review panels composed of a cross-section of community leaders, volunteer experts, educators and arts practitioners from areas throughout Arizona, Wilcox said.
Governor-appointed commissioners then approve or deny their recommendations.
“In accordance with the Arts Commission’s strategic plan and governing statutes, schools and nonprofit arts organizations are awarded grants based on such factors as community investment, quality of programming, fiscal ingenuity, and responsible stewardship of public funds,” Wilcox added.
Community at work
With added funds, MNA has conceived new programs including the “Four on the Floor” exhibit closing May 29, and “Tiny Tales,” a monthly story series geared toward toddlers. Heritage Festivals, summer Thirsty Thursdays and more have been able to continue as they depend on this sort of grant support.
“Our programs and services are strategically planned to serve our diverse community: research scientists, seniors, educators, schoolchildren, Native American tribal communities, and visitors from around the world,” Crujido added.
Tannous noted continued investment in the arts leads to job creation and future program support.
And from Downtown Friday Nights starting First Friday, June 2, to new installments of favorite exhibitions, including NightVisions 2017 open June 11, the community can benefit from grant dollars at work.
“We see it as non-political, bi-partisan,” Tannous added. “Funding for the arts is an investment in jobs and the economic prosperity of the state of Arizona. It’s really something that’s supported on both sides of the aisle.”