Cuts Could Strip Half of Region's Funding for the Arts
Local Arts Leaders Respond to Proposal
By nowBuzz up! BILL CHRISTIAN | 11 CONNECTS and DEBRA McCOWN | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | March 15, 2010*** Published: March 10, 2010 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier.***
ABINGDON, Va. – Belt-tightening proposals that include funding cuts of as much as 50 percent to the Virginia Commission for the Arts will lead to job losses and program reductions across Southwest Virginia, the Barter Theatre's artistic director said Tuesday.
"I think you are going to see the ramifications of this to be very significant," said Richard Rose, who has been with the theater for 18 seasons. "We have a ton of educational programs for the community that operate in the schools, that operate through the entire region's distance learning programs."
But under the proposed state funding cuts, Rose said, Barter and other arts groups could be forced to eliminate jobs as well as reduce programs.
Similar concerns are shared by arts leaders at the William King Museum, just a few blocks west from the Barter, and farther south in Bristol, where Merle Dickert, executive director of the Paramount Center for the Arts, said such drastic cuts might mean some arts organizations would be forced to close.
"We're at a real critical time should this happen, and frankly I think the money that would be saved would not be significant," Dickert said Tuesday. "Should the arts funding be taken away, that's a drop in the bucket as far as making an impact on the deficit."
To balance the state budget, Virginia lawmakers are considering a cut of 50 percent to the state arts commission for the 2010-11 budget year – and then eliminating the commission after that.
Most arts leaders in the community, including Rose and Emily Woolwine, director of development for William King Museum, said the cuts are coming at a time that has already been tough for public arts programs.
The William King relies on the Virginia Commission for the Arts funding for 5 to 10 percent of its budget, Woolwine said. Losing that chunk of money – it was $44,400 last year, she said – could mean cuts for museum programs. But there would be more.
Two cash-strapped Washington County school systems already have dropped participation in the museum's VanGogh Outreach art education program in response to state budget cuts, Woolwine said. She doesn't know how many others might follow – and losing those programs hits the core of the museum's educational mission.
"We always seem to be the first to go," Woolwine said of arts funding. "We try to keep our costs as low as possible and make it up with fundraising, but in a poor economy it does always seem the arts and culture-based programs are the first to be cut. And it's sad that the importance of those programs aren't recognized."
The arts, she said, are essential to a well-rounded education.
Bill Hartley, executive director of the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance in Bristol, Va., said the importance of arts programs goes beyond the obvious educational and quality of life benefits.
In Southwest Virginia, he said, arts and cultural venues also attract tourists, and that translates into cash and economic development.
"When you think about building a lot of economic development based on tourism, based around the music or heritage or culture," Hartley said, "... when you take away that source of funding, that will take away their ability to offer programs and services."
And that, he said, will impact the ability to attract tourists.
"These things do generate economic impact," Hartley said. "So for the amount of money, I think, this [funding the arts] is a good investment in people and institutions of Southwest Virginia and the quality of life."
Rose said the cuts would make already tough times tougher at the Barter, which has trimmed its staff by 20 percent over the past two years. But the show will go on.
Still, he said, the state cuts would affect the way the theater program markets itself to other areas of the country, and that in itself would have a big impact on the region.
"The minute you cut back those marketing efforts or the minute you eliminate a position that might be involved in those marketing efforts, it's going to affect the community," Rose said. "It's going to have a ripple affect all the way to the bed and breakfast, to the hotels and the restaurants, grocery stores and everything."
Even if the state does cut funding to the arts, Rose said, the Barter will survive. But he, among other arts leaders, is encouraging patrons to contact their delegates and state senators and ask them to keep funding for the arts.
In a written statement encouraging that action, Rose said eliminating the state arts commission makes little sense in the current economy.
Dickert said the community stands to lose much by the decision.
Funding from the Virginia Arts Commission is one reason the Paramount has been able to attract extraordinary artists to visit Bristol, Dickert said. And that should not be lost.
"Human beings have to have stimulation and joy, and that's what performance brings," Dickert said. "... We all need that, particularly now."