Creativity Under Attack

Mike Paulus, Nick Meyer

Obviously (and in a dark way, comically), Governor Walker’s budget repair bill proposes significant funding cuts impacting a massive collection of public institutions – from education to the state’s union-based industries to basic public services to ... recycling. The list goes on. You can’t swing a dead cat without it smacking into something that’s getting its funding cut – or eliminated – for better or for worse. And since Volume One is an “arts and culture” magazine, we’d better let you know how this could affect the arts in Wisconsin.

Hint: it’s not good.

Signs read
Signs read "arts are part of the solution."
(March 3, Madison, Wis.)

Ironically, yesterday (March 3) was “Arts Day” in Madison, where traditionally, hundreds of representatives of Wisconsin’s arts communities came together for one day to celebrate what’s been happening in the arts, connect and strengthen bonds with each other, and educate legislators about the importance of investing in the arts – to strengthen Wisconsin’s economy, educational system, and social infrastructure. Yesterday’s Arts Day looked like the picture you see on the right.

Why? Because the budget repair bill guts the state's contribution to the Wisconsin Arts Board by 73% and demotes it from a self-contained “agency” to a “program” to be placed within the Department of Tourism. Besides programs which have been completely eliminated from state funding, the Wis. Arts Board is the recipient of one of the bill’s deepest cuts. So yesterday and today (March 4), arts organizations have joined in the peaceful and positive protesting at our State’s capital building. Here’s a Facebook page for what’s being organized.

Some specific budget repair bill ramifications with expanded explanations:

The budget repair bill proposes to ...

Consolidate the Arts Board into Tourism

The Arts Board would cease to be an agency attached to tourism for administrative purposes. Governor Walker’s budget would consolidate the Arts Board and make it a program of the Department of Tourism.  The result of this action will be the elimination of six employees, the transfer of four employees to Tourism, with the Arts Board and its now executive director reporting to the Secretary of Tourism.

Eliminate the Percent for Art Program

From the bill: “The Governor recommends eliminating the Percent for Art program and associated expenditure and position authority to balance the budget.” The Percent for Art program makes sure that whenever state funds are used for a new building in Wis. a tiny percentage of the overall construction budget goes towards public art. This supports working artists and cultivates a positive cultural atmosphere in our public buildings. The long-running program would disappear.

Match State Funds to no more than Federal Funds

A state must have a state arts agency in order to receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and it must be able to match the funds it receives. Though near the bottom of the list on arts investment, until now the State of Wisconsin had still invested more than its federal award to create creative value in the state. This bill reduces state funding to the aboslute bare minimum allowed by the NEA. This could likely make us dead last in the country.

Naturally, there is a logo.
Naturally, there is a logo.

Now, all of this pertains directly to the Wisconsin Arts Board, its funding, and its programs. How the budget repair bill would affect arts education is another matter entirely. As school districts across the state deal with budget reductions, how will this affect already hobbled art and music programs? What about extracurriculars? David Brooks, in a recent New York Times’ op-ed ‘The New Normal,’ said, “…legislators and administrators are simply cutting on the basis of what’s politically easy and what vaguely seems expendable. In education, many administrators are quick to cut athletics, band, cheerleading, art and music because they have the vague impression that those are luxuries.”

Those who feel the arts are "part of the solution" for Wisconsin are organizing and finding ways to support these programs and the people in them – and get decision-makers to recognize the public value of the arts for Wisconsin.

You can learn a lot more about these issues here and here.

DISCLOSURE: In case you didn’t know, Nick Meyer (owner/editor/publisher of Volume One Magazine) is a current member of the WIsconsin Arts Board.

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