Monday, February 22, 2010

Legislators Propose Elimination of Arts Funding

Posted by Bruce Miller
I'm absolutely heartsick about today's news from the House Appropriations Committee. Here's a letter I've written to the T-D. I have no idea if it will run, so I'm printing it again here. PLEASE fax or call your legislators ASAP. Legislator contact information can be found on the web at

Editor - Times-Dispatch:

The House Appropriations Committee is proposing the elimination of the Virginia Commission for the Arts. I have been the artistic director of Theatre IV, The Children's Theatre of Virginia, for the last 35 years. In an effort to create significant cost efficiencies, the staff of Theatre IV also has managed Barksdale Theatre for the last 8 1/2 years.

As a nonprofit administrator, I have always been trained to speak publicly only of success. With regard to this new proposal, it would be irresponsible for me to pretend optimism when I know first-hand the certain disaster that will follow the passage of such misguided legislation.

Every day, Theatre IV and Barksdale, two of our state's most exemplary nonprofits, deal with the fact that Virginia historically and consistently funds the arts at a level lower than any state in our region. We continue to serve over 600,000 Virginians annually, despite the fact that the legislature eliminated direct funding of arts organizations four years ago, and over the last two years has already reduced indirect funding (through the Virginia Commission for the Arts) by 30%.

In the last 16 months, Theatre IV and Barksdale have eliminated 6 positions and have plans to eliminate 2 more (20% of our lean work force). We have reduced salaries by up to 17%, cancelled company contributions to retirement plans, and increased the percentage of health insurance premiums that must be paid by the employee. To adjust to the eliminated positions, many on our staff work 80-hour work weeks just to keep our nonprofit companies alive.

The elimination of state funding to the Virginia Commission for the Arts will cost Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre an additional $190,000 per year. That will mean the elimination of seven more jobs. Despite all our best efforts, we will not be able to operate under these conditions.

What the House Appropriations Committee is proposing is the elimination of the nonprofit arts infrastructure that tens of thousands of hard-working Virginians have taken decades to build. Hundreds of jobs will be lost. The economic repercussions will not be positive; they will be disastrous.

To avoid causing lasting harm to economic development, education, tourism and quality of life, please ask your legislators to oppose the current proposal of the House Appropriations Committee.

Bruce Miller
Artistic Director, Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre


Emily Cole said...

Bruce, thank you for writing this. The general public needs to be educated on the enormous impact the arts have on our economy, and your letter does just that. Crossing my fingers that it will go to print.

Time to rally the troops!

Anonymous said...

Well said Bruce! In this time where everyone has to tighten their belts, no one can really expect full or increased funding. Everyone has, and will, sacrifice until conditions improve, and they will.

It is the possible elimination of the Virginia Commission of the Arts as an entity, in this time of panic, that makes this different than your usual budget and funding crisis (you know, those that all non-profits deal with....every day). The short sidedness of our legislators may very well drive a stake through the heart of our rather vast and resilient Arts scene here in Central Virginia. Not right away, but slowly over the next 2 to 3 years.

First the immediate pain, job losses in the Arts, it happens, we’re always the first to go ;-) Next, due to weakened infrastructure, the number of Performing Arts events lower around the region. Less traffic to local restaurants, bars, clubs, coffee houses. Even the Landmark, Coliseum, and Richmond CenterStage will be operating at a loss. Next round of job losses, less sales & income tax revenue coming into the Commonwealth's coffers.

And as the recovery (which will come) unfolds, property values near our "revitalized" downtown plummet as more store fronts get boarded up. Major corporations begin to avoid Richmond like the plague because it’s "run down", with crappy schools, and zero nightlife or culture.

You want more jobs? Make your City/Region/State a good place to LIVE, and the jobs will come. When a Delegate or Senator wants to "Sell" their district, they sell the Schools, the Arts, Culture, and Richness of the Community. You know, those pesky "quality of life" type things.

The Virginia Commission for the Arts and the matching funds received by the National Endowment for the Arts, pretty much fund ALL of the high caliber performing arts organizations in the Commonwealth. It’s not a hand out; non-profits have to compete for funding. To see it totally eliminated would be a potential terminal blow to our cultural heartbeat.

I think that’s worth a phone call, fax, or email to your Delegate or Senator. Don’t you everybody? Keep your Schools, your Arts, and your Parks, and I guarantee your community will always be prosperous and vibrant!

Tony Foley

Jody Strickler said...

Well said! I was amazed that, when contacting my delegate's office by phone, I was able to speak at length with a staffer. I "explained" the situation for a good 15 minutes and was heartened to find that comments about VA's relative standing among other states with regard to arts' support drew a cautious promise to research this proposal further. One comment that really threw me was that private monies would carry arts thru! Just because Virginia's arts groups, out of necessity, have tapped private funds so efficiently, it appears they are now being "rewarded" by being kicked completely to the curb.

philcrosby said...

Bruce -- That letter is beautifully written. What a shame you can't op-ed it. I am also appalled at how little attention this has gotten in the press.