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Artists Brace For State Budget Cuts Reduction In Funding Hurts Many Ways


July 04, 2009

Connecticut's image has always been defined by attractive downtown greens, strong schools and lively local arts, but now one leg of that stool might fall as economic recession pervades American life.

To balance the state budget, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has proposed eliminating about $30 million in state arts and tourism grants to local government and arts institutions over the next two fiscal years. Rell has also proposed collapsing the state Commission on Culture and Tourism into the Department of Economic and Community Development. The extent of the cuts will not be clear until final budget proposals are worked out with legislative leaders this summer.

But local and regional arts groups aren't waiting for the torturously slow budget process to end. Certain that cuts to the arts are inevitable, they are already dramatically curbing their spending.

"Arts organizations have already seen anywhere from a 25 percent to a 40 percent reduction in their regular gifts from corporations and foundations, and private giving is also way down," said Cynthia Clair, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. "It doesn't make sense to sit around and wait for more cuts in state arts funding, so groups like Creative Arts Workshop and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra are cutting back on their hours or the size of their staff."

Clair said the arts council has reduced costs by cutting back to a four-day work week. Arts council employees are receiving unemployment benefits through the Connecticut Department of Labor's shared work program, which reimburses employees for the portion of the work week they didn't work because of reduced business demand or budget cutbacks.

In Hartford, the Hartford Stage, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra have all announced cutbacks that include leaving job vacancies open, remaining closed an extra day a week and cutting the salaries of top executives.

Arts groups are particularly concerned about Rell's proposal to fold the state's Commission on Culture and Tourism into the Department of Economic and Community Development. In the past, the bulk of federal grants for the arts were funneled through the independent commission, and it's unclear whether another state agency will qualify to receive federal grants.

Federal arts grants are also predominantly matching programs, meaning the federal government matches dollars spent by the state. But with Rell proposing a sweeping cut in state art grants, Connecticut would no longer qualify for the federal portion of the grants.

Local arts groups say almost $12 million in proposed cuts to statewide and local tourism marketing will also deeply affect the arts.

"It's important to realize that tourism cuts are almost as bad as direct cuts to arts groups because without those funds, I can't support groups like the Farmington Valley Visitors Association," said Martin Rotblatt, the executive director of the Farmington Valley Arts Center in Avon. "They are one of our best ways of letting everyone know about arts events."

Rotblatt's group provides education programs in the arts, a gallery and arts store and 20 art studios for working artists. Expecting state cuts in funding, he has cut back on newspaper advertising for events, did not print a catalog promoting his programs this summer and is deciding against sending a brochure to the 3,000 arts enthusiasts on his mailing list.

"To have a viable arts community, you at least have to let people know that the arts are there," Rotblatt said. "Well, we're not doing that very much now."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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