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Arts Groups in Connecticut Struggle with Slashed Budgets

By Gregory B. Hladky

August 25, 2011

It sounded wonderful when Gov. Dannel Malloy talked last week about how much economic activity can be generated through public spending on the arts.

"Believe it or not, this is a jobs story," Malloy told a group of Hartford arts and culture types during a visit to the Billings Forge Community Works a few blocks from his State Capitol office. He cited a study from his days as mayor of Stamford that found every $1 invested in the arts brings back $11-12 in overall economic activity.

Unfortunately, the reality of public funding of the arts in these days of lingering recession and public fiscal crisis is harsh.

State funding for the arts through Connecticut's Culture and Tourism operation dropped from about $4 million in 2009 to $2.4 million in 2010 and sank to $1.4 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Malloy's new budget plan merges the culture and tourism office into the state Department of Economic and Community Development, and keeps the arts funding at about the same $1.4 million level.

Cynthia Clair, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, says corporate contributions in her region continue to decline and that federal spending cuts could also reduce the amount the New Haven group gets through the National Endowment for the Arts.

Clair says the long debate over the state budget and state employee concessions (which were finally approved by unions last week) has left arts organizations across the state in funding limbo.

"I'm breathing a little sigh of relief," Clair says of the approval of the concessions deal, but then quickly adds that "Nobody has any [state] grant contracts yet."

"It's now two months into our fiscal year, and by now I've usually had those contracts," she say. So far, because of the uncertainty, arts groups haven't been allowed to submit applications for state funding.

Last year, the New Haven group received $133,000 in state arts grants, which Clair says made up about 20 percent of the nonprofit organization's annual budget. The remainder of their funding came from corporate and individual contributions, membership dues, ad revenue and a $10,000 grant from the NEA.

Elizabeth Hucker, director of community investment for the Greater Hartford Arts Council, says the drop-off in arts funding forced her organization to cut operating grants to local artists and programs by 30 percent in 2009. She says the reduced spending level remained flat last year.

The City of Hartford provided $1.02 million for Hartford's Arts and Heritage Jobs Grant program in 2009, another $370,000 last year and is expected to provide $370,000 this year.

Using a formula provided by a national arts group, Hucker calculates that every $1 invested in arts programs in the Hartford region results in $3-4 in direct spending just by the audiences attending those events for things like restaurants, parking, and shopping. Other economic activity generated by arts programs, such as jobs and housing-related spending, is what results in the higher estimates cited by Malloy for Stamford. Hucker believes Malloy's administration "really does see the economic value of the arts."

Malloy's budget plan allocates an additional $15 million to the culture and tourism office this year, but that money won't be spent on programs. Instead, the cash will go toward developing a new advertising and "branding" campaign for the state.

But the governor said that campaign would help the arts as well as Connecticut's tourism sites.

"We need to encourage more people to be supportive of the arts," Malloy said.

Maybe even the number-crunchers in state government will eventually get that message.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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