It goes without saying that the version of a state budget approved May 6 by the Pennsylvania Senate with zero funding for the arts is a bad idea.
Of course, such proposed budgets are of just first sallies in a longer battle, perhaps even bargaining chips. But as Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts chief Charlie Humphrey told the Post-Gazette earlier this week, this feels like a real threat. The state faces a massive budget shortfall in a down economy, and difficult choices must be made.
With people hungry, homeless and jobless, and other vital services on the chopping block, it might seem tough to argue for funding symphonies and museums, arts education and projects by individual artists. But here's a go: This isn't solely about money, notwithstanding the $14 million in arts-and-culture funding advocates have proposed (itself a substantial drop from the $15.2 million in this year's budget).
As Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk of the Mattress Factory wrote in their open letter to arts advocates, this is "about the gesture being made by some of our State officials that the arts do not deserve even the smallest level of support."
One might even see the budget as a shot across the bow in the never-ending culture wars, which reached a national crescendo two decades back with conservatives yelping about National Endowment for the Arts funding of "obscene" art. (This seems a good place to note that the man who introduced the senate's budget bill, Sen. Jake Corman, a Centre County Republican, was once a top aide to U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.)
People who think the arts should be merely decorative, and avoid directly disturbing anyone's thinking, are more likely to consider the arts disposable, rather than a fundamental part of human culture that needs at least a little help to thrive. If we can't muster $1.10 in tax money per state resident for the arts, we're in even worse shape than it seems.
And ultimately, it is about the money, too. Artists, of course, will always get by -- they'll keep making art because that's what they do. But art organizations might not be so lucky. For most of them, while government funding is only a small part of the budget, many of these groups (like many households) are only a paycheck or two from insolvency.
And bigger funding sources are drying up, too, especially corporate giving. Many groups report that individual donations are down, along with earned revenue from ticket sales and the like. And the foundations whose support is crucial to many groups have watched their endowments dwindle, arts giving is likely to shrink only further. In the next few years, that government money is going to be needed more than ever.
Here's the Save the Arts in Pennsylvania page on Facebook: pps.facebook.com/causes/281425.
Here's another site about supporting government arts funding: http://capwiz.com/artsusa/pa/state/main/?state=PA
It'll be some weeks before the state legislature finalizes the budget, but it wouldn't hurt for your representatives to hear from you in the meantime.