Arts advocates have cause to celebrate, now that Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has signed a budget that includes $1.5 million in funding for Arizona Commission on the Arts – a state agency charged with stimulating the arts, fostering public participation in the arts, and encouraging an appreciation for the state’s cultural resources.
The budget covers fiscal year 2017 for Arizona, which starts on July 1 of this year and continues through June 30, 2017. It was signed into law on Tuesday, May 10.
The budget Governor Ducey signed isn’t the original budget he proposed on January 16, 2016 – which included absolutely no funding for Arizona Commission on the Arts, despite the agency’s request for $2 million for the coming fiscal year.
Instead, it’s a budget amended through the legislative process, which the Arizona Legislature passed in the wee hours on Wednesday, May 4. The overall budget totals $9.6 billion.
Like other state agencies, Arizona Commission on the Arts submitted its request for funding last fall, says Bob Booker, executive director for Arizona Commission on the Arts. But filing the paperwork was only a first step.
After that, Booker says, they started working with colleagues at Arizona Citizens for the Arts, a statewide arts-advocacy organization led by executive director Rusty Foley that promotes arts-friendly public policies at the local, state, and federal levels.
“We had conversations with a number of legislators on both sides of the aisle,” Booker says. “We weren’t shy about the cuts we received after the economic downtown.”
Those cuts included the loss of a $20 million ArtShare endowment, which the state used to balance its overall budget between 2009 and 2011. And the commission saw other cuts, too.
Still, it wasn’t a complete bust.
In 2014 and 2015, they got $1 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. That’s where the $1.5 million will come from this time around, which means there’s no guarantee they’ll see similar funding in subsequent years.
Over the years, Arizona Commission on the Arts has developed several strategies for weathering the ups and downs in state funding – including securing funding from other sources.
Despite receiving no state money last year, they were able to launch three new initiatives, Booker says.
Their AZ Creative Aging initiative – which trains artists, supports the development of arts programs for older adults, and embeds creative-aging best practices in the community – is supported by a grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.
And a grant from the Emily Hall Tremain Foundation helps fund the AZ ArtWorker program – which provides artist-to-artist professional development by connecting Arizona artists with national and international peers, plus residents of Arizona communities.
The commission also gets funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency that “funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity” of communities.
But Booker also credits his staff, saying they’ve “learned to work smarter with less.”
It doesn’t mean that they don’t need the state dollars, Booker says. Having more money helps them work directly with nonprofit arts organizations, increase the reach of successful programs into rural regions, create more arts learning opportunities for youth, and award grants to Arizona artists and arts organizations.
Arizona Commission on the Arts hasn’t announced how the $1.5 million will be spent. Booker only learned of the latest budget developments early Wednesday morning, after watching live late-night Arizona House and Senate proceedings online. “I was very happy,” Booker says.
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“I’m really pleased with the unity we felt among members of the Legislature,” Booker says. “There were surely some champions.”
Chief among them, he says, were Representative Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix, a Republican representing District 28, and three Senators — Senator Bob Worsley of Mesa, a Republican representing District 25; Senator Steve Pierce of Prescott, a Republican representing District 1; and Senator Steve Farley of Tucson, a Democrat representing District 9.
But more than 1,000 arts advocates deserve credit too, Foley says. After Arizona Citizens for the Arts launched a social media campaign in April urging people to send messages to key players in the budget debate (including the Governor, plus House and Senate leaders), more than 1,000 people did just that.
“That tremendous response,” Foley says, “sends a very strong message about how Arizonans value the arts.”