On Valentine's Day this year, instead of making cards for classmates, the art students at Utterback Middle School wrote a letter to the Wildcat, worried that they may lose "all the art supplies and workshops (they) are used to getting" if the Arizona Legislature were to cut funding to the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
"Earlier in the school year, we had a papermaker come to our classes to show how to make paper. She was funded by a grant from the arts commission. She showed us that different woods can make very different styles of paper: different color, texture, smell and designs," the letter said. "Without the funding we will not be able to continue this kind of hands-on experience. This is a big issue at our school, because we love these experiences, that we cannot receive without the funding."
Last week's alterNation feature summarized the debate over public funding of the arts which is distributed through organizations such as the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment of the Humanities, The Institute for Museum Services and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Both sides of this much-debated issue question the importance of the arts in America and what responsibility the government has to provide financial support for them. Tucson's art community is supported by the NEA,
ACA and other such organizations and there would be some definite implications if this funding were to disappear.
Last year Pima County alone received almost half a million dollars from the state of Arizona to support local arts. The money was distributed to over 100 individuals, groups and organizations, including artist-in-residence programs in elementary schools, local museums, theaters and dance groups.
The Tucson Museum of Art receives an operating grant of $36,000 a year from the ACA, which is barely 2.5 percent of the museum's annual budget, said Bob Yassin, executive director of the museum. Yassin also added that the museum does not get funding directly from the National Endowment for the Arts, but sometimes they may receive money for special project funds.
"We won't go out of business," Yassin said, "but a cut will affect business."
For Yassin, the issue of public funding for the arts is a political one: "Why do you pick on two of the smallest agencies in the government?"
Yassin went on to say that a cut in public art funding would squelch artistic initiative and deprive the already underserved audience. New music, new dance and general artistic creativity would become second priority amidst a struggle to generate funding. That funding is necessary just to keep art establishments in business, which requires allowing artists time and space to create. Special exhibits and programs geared toward minority groups would lose stimulus, he added.
Although Yassin does not want to see public funding of the arts cut from the federal budget, he agrees with the basic elements of Senator Jesse Helms' philosophy.
"Helms wants to insure that we are getting the best (out of the arts)," Yassin said. Where Helms wants to decrease public funding because of low quality art, Yassin would like to see higher quality in art production stressed.
Faced with having to rely on the private sector to generate funds to keep the museum in operation, Yassin is hopeful.
"The private sector will rise to the occasion, maybe not as much as we'd want, but things won't be like they were before the NEA was established," he said.
The UA Arizona State Museum is another organization which faces financial loss and the consequences that follow, if cutbacks are made. With only $4,000 a year allotted for operating and building of exhibits from the UA, the Arizona State Museum would barely have enough money to house "one small, low-budget contemporary exhibit," said Bruce Hilpert, curator of the museum.
With the rental cost for housing a traveling exhibit for three months ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, the museum would be at a great disadvantage.
Given cuts, Arizona State Museum would be able to staff itself and pay the basic operational fees, but would not be able to install new breakthrough exhibits like Paths of Life which depicts the lives of local Native American peoples. The NEH contributed $500,000 to the museum for Paths of Life. The first grant amounted to $250,000 with a matching grant that generated $200,000 from the general public.
"We never would have gone out and raised the money without the NEH challenge," said Hilpert. He also added that five or six years ago it wouldn't have been uncommon to get a $450,000 NEH grant without a matching challenge.
"Many people don't realize how much the NEH supports," Hilpert said. It allows for the exposure of arts and cultures that "affect people's quality of life."
Though museums are important forums for the display of art, they are not the only art outlets in Tucson and they are certainly not the only art organizations that will be affected by cuts in public funding.
The Arizona Theatre Company receives only 5 percent of its total operation costs from the public sector, said the theater's managing director, Robert Alpaugh. The loss of these funds would not close ATC, but they would have "one year of no growth in order to cover that," Alpaugh said.
"Artists produce art because they must," he said. Alpaugh contends that the proposed cuts are another way of the government saying that the arts are not important. But Alpaugh is certain that if NEA or ACA funding is cut from the budget that eventually the decision will be reversed.
Managing Artistic Director of the Invisible Theatre Ä another local production company Ä Susan Claassen said that the NEA "creates a climate where arts are a valued part of the community." To lose this public funding would make the arts elitist, she said, available to only those people that could afford them.
"Every federal dollar spent on the arts gets $11 matching (from the private sector)," Claassen said. So the theatre, as well as other establishments in the Tucson art community, would lose this key motivational tool for generating private support of the arts. Claassen also feels that cuts in public funding is akin to "censorship and restriction of free expression."
At KUAT/KUAZ radio and television, business will not continue as usual if public broadcasting funds are cut.
"We won't go off the air, but you can't lose all that money without affecting what you do," said Don Burgess, general manager. "There is no way to make up that money in membership."
If the cuts are implemented, Burgess is concerned about the "spiral effect" that might occur. As other public radio stations "go off the air, the cost to the rest of us, just to stay in there, goes up dramatically," Burgess said.
Public funding of the arts also gives artists time Ä a crucial element in the creation process. "It took me 12 years to write my last book of poems," said Alison Deming, UA Poetry Center director and recent recipient of a $20,000 NEA grant.
"I was always juggling full-time work, parenthood and writing," Deming said. With the grant, she will be able to take about one year off from her busy job to devote to working on a new book of poems. Even though the time for her is "precious," there never seems to be enough of it, Deming said.
The Tucson arts community provides a vital resource to the public through its theaters, dance groups, orchestras and art-education classes. Public funding allows artists the opportunity to explore their creative process with the financial support necessary to sustain their livelihood. Proposed governmental cuts would not only hurt artists, it would also hurt the Tucson community that relies on the arts for education, beauty and growth.
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