Arizona's New Budget Leaves Out $2 Million in Arts Funding

The Arizona State Capitol, where budget negotiations didn't end well for the arts sector this time around.
The Arizona State Capitol, where budget negotiations didn't end well for the arts sector this time around. Sean Holstege
Artists and arts organizations already struggling with the impact of COVID-19 got some bad news last week, as the Arizona Legislature adjourned without funding arts and culture. Arizona Commission on the Arts, the state agency charged with making arts accessible for all community members, had requested that Arizona include $2 million for the arts in its fiscal year 2021 budget, which covers the period between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021.

But that didn’t happen. Instead the state adopted a “skinny budget” focused on funding existing programs. Last year, the Arizona Legislature approved $2 million in arts funding, which explains why the arts advocacy group Arizona Citizens for the Arts is referring to this year’s funding as a 100 percent cut. It’s possible the Legislature will use a subsequent session to increase funding in certain areas such as arts and culture.

That’s what Rosemarie Dombrowski, inaugural poet laureate for the city of Phoenix, is pushing for. “I wrote to my legislators,” she says, “but now I’m trying to circulate a letter among the literary community and get hundreds of signatures to send to the governor.”

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Rosemarie Dombrowski is hoping literary creatives can still have an impact on the FY 2021 budget.
Ofelia Montelongo
If $2 million isn’t folded into the next budget, there will be real-world consequences for Arizona artists and arts organizations, according to Joseph Benesh, who heads Arizona Citizens for the Arts. He’s mindful of the fact that most state agencies are taking cuts now, but laments the fact that none of the commission’s $2 million request has been funded.

This isn't the first time the arts have not been included. Arizona Commission on the Arts requested $2 million during the FY 2016 budget process, but none of those funds were included in the budget that year.

“We are going to see a domino effect of more losses to artists and communities,” Benesh wrote in a May 30 advocacy newsletter sent to arts and culture supporters. Typically, the $2 million goes toward grants and programs that benefit artists, arts organizations, and community members. Without that funding, it's likely those grants and programs will be cut.

Arizona Commission on the Arts expects to release a statement in coming days about the outcome of the legislative session and its ramifications for both the commission and the arts sector.

The details will come as artists continue to face financial challenges caused by COVID-19 closures and cancellations. It’s possible that Arizona will use part of its federal CARES Act funding to support the arts and culture sector, but there’s no guarantee that will be the case.

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Phoenix choreographer Nicole Olson calls the state's decision "a travesty."
Scottsdale Public Art
For Movement Chaos founder Nicole Olson, whose work is regularly performed in community settings, the arts are no less important now than they were before concerns about public health and racial justice took center stage in recent weeks and months. “Art is what makes us smile and gives us pride in our community, and it’s what has gotten so many people through this pandemic,” she says.

She’s hoping that Arizona will find a way to add $2 million in arts funding to the FY 2021 budget. “It’s a travesty for our communities and our artists that these opportunities are being taken away,” Olson says. “We’ll be losing something beautiful and poignant.”
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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble