Advocacy
Rand Report Says State Arts Agencies Need To Reach Out To
Broader Public In Order To Avoid Cycle Of Budget Woes


State arts agencies need to change the way they do business if they wish to avoid a continued cycle of budget woes, a RAND Corporation study issued recently recommends.

With tight budgets forcing cuts in state spending nationwide, the state arts agencies will have to increase public participation in and government backing for their arts programs, the RAND study says. Some programs may need to be restructured or abolished in order to free up resources for activities that enjoy greater public support, and the agencies will have to work more closely with local communities to determine priorities, according to the study.

Julia Lowell, author of the RAND report, said state arts agencies should view their role as providing a public service to all state residents, rather than primarily to artists and nonprofit arts organizations.

“One reason many state arts agencies have not fared well in the recent budget crisis is that they have relied on artists and arts organizations to make the case for public support of the arts,” Lowell said. “By putting more emphasis on programs that appeal to people outside the arts, such as arts education in schools, arts agencies can encourage more widespread participation and create a bigger constituency for the arts.”

In 2003, arts agencies in 43 out of 56 state and territorial agencies suffered declines in their general fund appropriations. In 2004, 34 agencies reported cuts, with nine experiencing cuts of more than 30 percent. The report, “ State Arts Agencies 1965-2003: Whose Interests to Serve?” was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation as part of its State Arts Partnerships for Cultural Participation (START) initiative. The study, the first in a series by RAND examining state arts agencies, suggests that these budget cuts are the latest manifestation of systemic problems with public funding at the state level.

“Along with our partnership with 13 innovative state arts agencies, funding independent, credible research and reporting the results is a critical part of The Wallace Foundation's effort to help expand participation in the arts,” said M. Christine DeVita, president of The Wallace Foundation. “This report suggests the value of taking a fresh look at how public agencies can contribute to expanding opportunities for participating in the arts.”

In the 1960s, when state arts agencies were founded, most states lacked much formal arts activity. Building up the supply of the arts through grants to artists and arts institutions was a top priority.

Today, however, the United States abounds with top-notch theater groups, musicians, art museums, dance troupes, and folk artists—and is much more diversified culturally. Determining where small amounts of public money will do the greatest good is a harder task, requiring state arts agencies to get a consensus from a much broader spectrum of Americans than was true in the past.

According to the RAND report, state arts agencies enjoyed increasing levels of legislative appropriations in the roughly 15 years following the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965. At first, they focused their funding on artists and arts institutions in “high arts” disciplines such as ballet and symphonic music. Beginning in the 1970s, they expanded their grant making to include artists and performing groups from a wide variety of cultural traditions.

A nationwide recession in the early 1980s, coupled with a decline in grants to states from the NEA, placed many state arts agencies under budgetary pressure. In the early 1990s, a highly publicized debate over federal funding of controversial art plus another recession also hurt state arts budgets.

Today, with many states experiencing their worst fiscal crisis since the 1930s and state arts budgets once again in decline, state arts agencies have been exploring new ways to get Americans involved in the arts — and supportive at the ballot box.

The Wallace Foundation launched START in 2001 to support state art agencies in establishing more audience-centered funding standards, practices and program strategies that will influence grantmaking decisions to arts organizations. Since its inception, 13 SAAs have been awarded multi-year START grants to support effective programs, research and outreach efforts on arts participation, including leadership training, pilot demonstration projects and improved technical assistance. The agencies were from: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington.

Future reports in the series will discuss the opportunities and challenges faced by state arts agencies as they adapt to the new cultural and political realities of the 21st century.

The Wallace Foundation, established by Reader's Digest founders DeWitt and Lila Wallace, supports and shares effective ideas and practices that help institutions expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people. Its current goals are to: strengthen education leadership to improve student achievement; improve after-school learning opportunities; and expand participation in arts and culture. www.wallacefoundation.org