Thursday, August 14, 2008

Standing Up for the VCA

Posted by Bruce Miller
This morning's Times-Dispatch contains a regrettable editorial. At the top of the column on the left of the Editorial Page, under the heading "State Budget - Hard Times," the scribes at the T-D outline Virginia's currently woeful budget projections (a direct effect of our nation's recession). In response to these financial challenges, the editors write:

"Spending cuts are problematic: Much of the (Virginia) budget is driven by mandates and necessity. But there are agencies whose functions are not crucial to the commonwealth. Some possibilities:

--The Virginia Tourism Authority;
--The Virginia Economic Development Partnership;
--The Virginia Department of Business Assistance;
--The Virginia Department of Minority Business Enterprise;
--The Virginia Commission for the Arts;
--The Virginia Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station;
--Assorted museums."

I'll let others speak for the agencies they know about. I cannot fail to step forward for the Virginia Commission for the Arts. I know first hand how well this agency is managed, and what vital and essential support it provides to all the nonprofit arts organizations in Virginia.

What frustrates me the most is that these misguided words from the editors of the T-D come after a year in which all of Virginia's Non-State Agency Funding was eliminated entirely. Non-State Agency Funding is the political pork that was traditionally awarded to arts organizations and other nonprofits above and beyond the objective funding of the VCA. Eliminating Non-State Agency Funding reduced total arts support in Virginia by hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Barksdale and Theatre IV received a total of $45,000 in Non-State Agency funding in 2006-07, and $0 from the same pot in 2007-08.)

Cuts of this size are devastating, even for a nonprofit organization of our size. It's not like we have $45,000 sitting around unused. Exacting additional cuts to our and other's VCA funding seems unthinkable to me. I believe it would be exceedingly reckless--perhaps even life-threatening to many nonprofit organizations.

Currently Barksdale and Theatre IV each receive $112,500 annually from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, representing about 2.5% of our overall budgets. Our two nonprofit organizations currently receive $44,455 from the Greater Richmond Consortium, which allocates support from the localities of Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover, representing considerably less than one percent of our overall budgets.

For the sake of comparison, let's look at our neighboring state of Maryland. In the Old Line State, major nonprofit arts organizations expect to receive approximately 7.5% of their budget from the state, and an additional 7.5% of their budget from local governments. If Barksdale and Theatre IV were located in the Baltimore area instead of in Richmond, our public funding would equal approximately $750,000 per year, or roughly $480,000 more that we currently receive in public funding from the Greater Richmond localities and the state of Virginia.

All the other nonprofit theatres in town fare worse than we do in terms of actual dollars received in public support, but, in most cases, better than we do in terms of the percentage of their budget that is covered by public funds.

One of my favorite Theatre IV Board members, Phyllis Galanti, has an email address that begins with "NoWhining." I'm ashamed to admit that I can be an inveterate whiner, and so I keep Phyllis's email address hanging above my desk, just to remind me to keep a stiff, and frequently buttoned, upper lip.

But I believe that editorials like the one that appeared this morning do the public an injustice by suggesting that the activities of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and, by extension, the work of all of Virginia's artists, are not "crucial" to the people of Virginia. Trying not to whine, but nonetheless determined to present forthrightly the facts of the matter, I've written the following Letter to the Editor. The letter may or may not make it into the venerable T-D, but I think it's important for all of us who love the arts to know the facts and fight for the survival of essential, objective arts funding in the Virginia budget.

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

Like you, I believe Virginia’s “hard times require hard choices.” They also require informed thinking. In your discussion of possible budget cuts, you list the Virginia Commission for the Arts as an agency “whose functions are not crucial to the commonwealth.” I disagree. For the people of Virginia, the VCA is not only crucial, it’s a conservative investment.

The Virginia taxpayer contributes only 81 cents per capita to the VCA, making Virginia 33rd in the nation in terms of state arts appropriations. This taxpayer support earns for our state $719,000 in matching funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. With these limited resources, the VCA provided essential funding in 2007-08 to 743 grantees, sustaining over 500 nonprofit arts groups and bringing arts education to 3.3 million Virginia students. In 2000, an independent study found that the economic impact of the arts in Virginia exceeded $1 billion per year.

Not everyone enjoys theater, music, dance, the visual and/or literary arts. But those who don’t appreciate the
value of the arts must not be doing the math. The arts build community. They also attract major corporations to Virginia; provide thousands of jobs; make possible Virginia’s principal child sexual abuse prevention effort; bring free-of-charge smiles to legions of Alzheimer’s patients; enhance the instruction of science, math, English and social studies in our schools; and infuse the Virginia economy with millions of dollars from out-of-state touring.

Because of historically low funding, Virginia’s arts industry has been in a precarious state for decades. Like parks and libraries, arts organizations are irreplaceable threads in the fabric of a healthy commonwealth. Cutting funding for the VCA would not help balance Virginia’s budget. It would decrease overall revenues and make Virginia’s financial challenges even worse.

Bruce Miller

Artistic Director, Theatre IV and Barksdale Theatre

I hope all of you will join me in standing up for the Virginia Commission for the Arts. I'm not engaging in hyperbole when I say that, should the state decide to make additional cuts to the VCA, many nonprofit organizations, including Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV, would find it difficult to survive.

--Bruce Miller


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your taking the time, not just now but previously as well, to share specific facts and figures that help us understand the financial issues Barksdale faces. I think most Virginians and most Richmonders are completely unaware of how our state and localities fall behind when it comes to supporting the arts industry. Particularly with theaters, a lot of us think that you are self-supporting, or at least should be. We admire the major theaters in other states and assume that they are self-supporting, like Broadway. Do major theaters like Arena Stage in D C, Steppenwolf in Chicago, Centerstage in Baltimore, the Alliance in Atlanta, etc., also rely on public and private funding beyond ticket sales? Do you have any statistics regarding national averages?

--Lawrence Tennant

Mr. Grant Mudge said...


Cheers for your advocacy, Bruce---let me ask you to please fwd this letter to each and every member of the assembly since they're out of session and may not see it in the RTD.

We will indeed be contact our representatives--thank you again for a timely heads up.

-Grant Mudge
Artistic Director
Richmond Shakespeare

Anonymous said...

Most people and most localities are unaware of the benefit to the communities by artists. So many areas of communities across this nation, and here in the state of Virginia, have been revitalized by the arts community. For the most part, locality leaders here in Virginia are unaware of the results of other states in the revitalization projects.

In addition, the arts have a profound effect upon young people who have "nothing to do," the mentally challenged, and senior adults. Disabled individuals often find meaning to their day-to-day activities by being involved in the arts.

Society is effected by the arts in every way, from the design of skyscrapers to the packages of protein bars. We have already taken arts out of many schools with other activities being more important.

The value in agencies such as the Virginia Tourism Authority, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Virginia Department of Business Assistance, the Virginia Department of Minority Business Enterprise, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, the Virginia Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station and assorted museums all are important. They effect people. They change lives. They bring encouragement to people. They bring hope to communities.

Perhaps the state would be better served by finding a way to raise revenue without taxes, without cutting out agencies that bring hope. Maybe the state needs creative minds to help get it out of the economic problems it has. Creative minds v. political minds. Maybe they could consult with the Economic Development Partnership for some ideas, or graduate MBA students.

The state could be a light in the time of trouble, leading it to see what is good and wonderful and to encourage home tourism, home products, etc. rather than shutting down.