The Arizona State Capitol, where budget negotiations are underway.EXPAND
The Arizona State Capitol, where budget negotiations are underway.
Sean Holstege

Here's Why the Next Arizona Budget Could Devastate the Arts

Things aren’t looking good for Arizona Commission on the Arts.

Arizona legislators slashed several items from the proposed fiscal year 2019 budget, including $2 million for the commission. That’s the total amount the commission requested, which means the Legislature’s current plan includes zero funding for the arts.

The commission is a statewide agency tasked with making art accessible to everyone in Arizona through several types of programs and grants. It’s one of more than 50 affiliates for the National Endowment for the Arts, which provides about $800,000 in agency funding each year.

For fiscal year 2019, Arizona Commission on the Arts requested the following:

• $1.5 million for community investment and art learning grants
• $300,000 for creative-economy investments in rural and under-served communities
• $200,000 to expand a creative aging initiative beyond Maricopa County.

In total, it's a $2 million ask. Which is a pretty standard amount for the commission to request.

Of course, they might not get any new funding, as legislators scramble to fund a proposed pay raise for Arizona teachers. Catherine "Rusty" Foley hopes it won’t come down to that. She’s the executive director for Arizona Citizens for the Arts, a group that advocates for arts across Arizona.

“We are not suggesting that pay raises for teachers are unimportant or less important than the arts,” Foley says. “We are letting the governor know that we are concerned, but that there's a palatable solution.”

Arizona's 2019 budget will cover July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. Putting it together takes several months, because both the governor and the Legislature issue budget proposals, before negotiating to arrive at a final budget. There's no timeline for when a final budget deal is likely, according to a spokesperson for the governor's office.

Those negotiations are happening now. And it's a bit of a moving target.

Ducey released his proposed budget in January. Although it didn’t include a line item for Arizona Commission on the Arts, advocates didn’t panic. That’s happened before — and the state has still secured funding for the commission.

Arizona has a rainy-day fund, where revenue from years of higher economic growth is kept and then spent during leaner years. That’s how Arizona has funded the arts commission during four of the past five years.

That one exception? The 2016 budget, when the legislature funded zero dollars for Arizona Commission on the Arts, despite the agency's request for $2 million.

So it’s never safe to assume the funding will come through, according to Foley.

Unlike the commission, which exists to support art programs in Arizona communities, Arizona Citizens for the Arts is focused on public policy and the arts. Now, they’re laser-focused on making sure the arts get funded in the next budget.

The legislature’s first 2019 budget proposal didn't include the $2 million, although it was part of a later proposal, according to Stefan Shepherd, a staff member with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. The committee works on budget issues for the Arizona Legislature.

But a later legislative budget proposed taking $2 million from the general fund and putting it into the Arts Trust Fund, according to an email Shepherd sent Phoenix New Times on Friday, April 20.

The Arts Trust Fund is another tool the state uses for arts funding. Fees paid for corporate filings go into the fund, which typically generates about $1.43 million a year for the art agency’s work. That money goes to the agency every year, separate and apart from any additional money it requests.

Whether the commission gets the $2 million it requested depends on how ongoing budget negotiations shake out.

At this point, things aren’t looking good. When the Legislature issued yet another proposal on Monday, April 16, arts funding wasn’t included.

The $2 million in arts funding is one of 48 items cut from that proposal, just days after Ducey called for increases in education spending.

On Thursday, April 12, Ducey proposed giving Arizona teachers a 20 percent raise over the course of three years, starting with the 2019 budget. The move followed #RedForEd protests by educators and others who want Arizona to increase teacher salaries and boost education funding in other areas.

That timing is no coincidence, according to a press release issued by Arizona Citizens for the Arts on Thursday, April 19. The release addresses “Governor Doug Ducey’s plan to use $2 million the Arizona legislature intended for the Commission to help fund his proposal to raise teacher salaries.”

Performance by Black Theatre Troupe, one of many Arizona Commission on the Arts grant recipients.
Performance by Black Theatre Troupe, one of many Arizona Commission on the Arts grant recipients.
Black Theatre Troupe

Even so, Foley doesn’t want to pit educators against artists.

The rainy-day fund still exists, she says. So, there’s no reason the final budget that’s adopted can’t include both teacher raises and $2 million in rainy-day funds for the arts. Foley is making that case now, especially with legislators who have a history of supporting arts funding.

It’s worth noting that education funds could also be drawn from the rainy-day fund. What gets funded, and how, is still very much in play.

The governor’s April 12 proposal for the 2019 budget included $100 million for teacher raises and other education expenses.

The governor’s office sent Phoenix New Times an email statement on Thursday, April 19:

“The Governor supports the arts and proposes to fully fund the Arts Commission as outlined in his budget proposal released in January. Additional increases are still on the table for consideration as we finalize the details of the budget.”

It’s worth clarifying a bit of fine print here. Neither the governor’s January proposal, nor his revised proposal issued on April 12 included the $2 million, according to Shepherd.

Proposals can change, which means the public won’t always know what’s currently on the table for arts, education, or other budget details still being negotiated.

In any event, Foley is asking arts supporters to contact their legislators, to show their support for arts funding. She’s been posting details on the Arizona Citizens for the Arts Facebook page, where she provides regular updates.

Arts organizations are taking notice.

After Arizona Citizens for the Arts sent an email advocacy alert to its supporters on Wednesday, April 18, Scottsdale Arts forwarded the alert along with its own message: "Time is of the essence!" Scottsdale Arts oversees Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, and Scottsdale Public Art.

Nearly 1,000 people responded as well, sending 3,976 emails to Ducey and legislators through the Arizona Citizens for the Arts website. That doesn't include direct emails and phone calls from arts supporters, Foley says. There's no way to count that, but Foley says it's significant.

If the arts don’t get funded, it will have a significant impact on Arizona artists and arts organizations. “These cuts would be devastating,” Foley says.

The arts commission board, comprising governor-appointed members, would have to decide what to cut.

“We can look to past experience to predict that if no funds are allotted, statewide grants may be reduced by as much as 60 percent,” a commission spokesman told Phoenix New Times by email on Wednesday, January 24. That’s when the governor’s proposed budget was first released.

Several of the commission’s most innovative programs would be placed on hiatus, as well. The former Art Tank program, which awarded grants based in part on audience votes cast after artist pitch events, was nixed because of funding cuts in the state budget.

This time around, cuts could affect the new AZ Creative Communities Institute, according to an agency spokesperson. That program pairs teams of creatives working in diverse disciplines with community members, to work on projects that directly impact their communities.

Even so, Arizona Commission on the Arts remains guardedly optimistic.

“We are watching the FY2019 budget negotiations with great interest and are hopeful for an outcome that allows us to maintain robust services to the citizens of Arizona,” says Steve Wilcox, the agency’s communications director.

Meanwhile, Foley is hoping art supporters contact policymakers to weigh in on the state budget.

“It may be hard to get arts funding this time around, but it’s not impossible,” Foley says. “Grassroots are the most powerful tool we have, so we need people who are passionate about the arts to get engaged.”

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