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Christine Cassano, shown here at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, is an Arizona Commission on the Arts grant recipient.EXPAND
Christine Cassano, shown here at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, is an Arizona Commission on the Arts grant recipient.
Lynn Trimble

As Lawmakers Meet, Will Arts Be Left Out of the State Budget?

There’s no need to panic, but it’s a good time to start paying attention to the Arizona budget process if you care about arts and culture.

Decisions made in the coming weeks and months will determine whether Arizona Commission on the Arts gets the funding it needs to move forward with arts and culture programs and grants in metro Phoenix and beyond.

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There’s already cause for concern, because Governor Doug Ducey’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 doesn’t include funding for Arizona Commission on the Arts. Fiscal year 2020 runs from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, and the arts allocation at this point is zero.

Arizona Commission on the Arts is one of over 50 agencies affiliated with the National Endowment for the Arts. The commission is charged with making diverse arts experiences accessible throughout the state, and a significant portion of its budget typically comes from the state of Arizona. Other funding sources include the NEA and private contributions.

Whether the final FY 2020 budget signed into law includes arts funding will depend on budget negotiations at the Arizona Capitol, where legislators will put their own proposed budget forward in coming weeks.

Choreographers for the first BlakTina Festival in Phoenix, which was funded in part by an Arizona Commission on the Arts grant.EXPAND
Choreographers for the first BlakTina Festival in Phoenix, which was funded in part by an Arizona Commission on the Arts grant.
Audrey Pekala

Art advocates can influence lawmaker decisions, according to Catherine “Rusty” Foley. She heads Arizona Citizens for the Arts, an arts advocacy organization that works to increase public and private support for the arts throughout Arizona.

Arizona Citizens for the Arts is calling on arts supporters to get involved. “We continue to encourage folks to contact their legislators about supporting the arts commission,” Foley says. Their website has tips for people who aren’t experienced in reaching out to state legislators.

Foley urges creatives to contact their legislators and invite them to attend various arts events from exhibits to performances. This week, the governor is doing several budget briefings around the state, which for creatives and other community members are free to attend. Anyone can comment on the budget by emailing azbudget@az.gov.

For those who question whether arts and culture matters, Jaime Dempsey, executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, offers a big picture perspective. “Investing in arts and culture helps create educational opportunities, resilient state and local economies, and thriving people and places,” she says. “Creativity is at the heart of all innovation.”

Arizona Commission on the Arts requested $2.3 million in funding for FY 2020 last fall, when state agencies submitted their annual funding requests. Without those funds, the agency would have to significantly curtail its services, Dempsey says.

Dempsey detailed the commission’s budget request in a September 4, 2018, letter to Matthew Gress, director for the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting. The letter addresses several key issues, including ways current funding is being spent and why the agency is seeking $2.3 for the coming year.

“Without the proposed allocation, the Arts Commission would radically contract grantmaking and services,” she wrote, in part.

Arizona Commission on the Arts grant recipient David Emitt Adams has art exhibited at three museums.EXPAND
Arizona Commission on the Arts grant recipient David Emitt Adams has art exhibited at three museums.
Lynn Trimble

Dempsey’s letter also tackles the issue of long-term funding for the arts, calling for a significant change in the way arts and culture is funded in Arizona.

For several years now, Arizona has funded the commission’s work through one-time allocations, rather than including arts funding in the general fund. It’s a bit like deciding each year whether or not to include your mortgage in the family budget, rather than including house payments in your budget on a permanent basis.

With Dempsey’s letter, the commission “formally requests an allocation of $2.3 million in FY 2020, and requests that this allocation be appropriated from the General Fund or positioned within another fund source as ongoing funding.” Turns out, it’s tough to plan arts programs when you’re not certain whether future funding will be there.

That uncertainty can have a domino effect. “The arts commission’s programs aren’t year-to-year programs,” Foley says. “They have ongoing partnerships that help sustain the arts in communities for longer periods of time, and funding partners like the Arizona Community Foundation and Flinn Foundation want to know that their partners have stable funding,” she adds.

Many years ago, the arts were funded quite differently in Arizona. The general fund included $2.1 million for Arizona Commission on the Arts, but appropriation was eliminated during the last recession. Arts funding endured additional setbacks, including the loss of a $20 million arts endowment fund and cutbacks to an arts trust that helps fund art programs throughout the state.

The Arts Trust launched in 1989 gets revenue from filing fees paid to the Arizona Corporation Commission, but that revenue has fallen by 17 percent since 2011, according to Dempsey’s letter. In recent months, it’s taken a larger hit, due to technology and transition issues that reduced the amount of money going to the fund. It's already resulted in reduced funding for some grants, and prompted placing other grant opportunities on hold. 

That’s why the commission is seeking $300,000 more for FY 2020, compared to FY 2019.

Performers with Rising Youth Theatre, one of many Arizona Commission on the Arts grant recipients.EXPAND
Performers with Rising Youth Theatre, one of many Arizona Commission on the Arts grant recipients.
Courtesy of Rising Youth Theatre

If the past is anything to go by, the final FY 2020 budget will include arts funding, despite the fact that arts didn’t make it into Ducey’s proposed budget. From FY 2014 to FY 2019, the Arizona Commission on the Arts received between $1 million and $2 million a year through one-time allocations from the state’s rainy day fund, with one exception.

The FY 2016 budget did not include an allocation for Arizona Commission on the Arts, which means art advocates can’t assume that funding will always come through in the end. Last year, Ducey’s proposed budget left out arts funding, yet the final budget he signed into law included $2 million for the arts.

Foley says she’s hopeful that the final state budget will include arts funding, especially if constituents make their voices heard at the Arizona Capitol. “While we’re optimistic, it’s important that we continue to be present at the legislature as the process goes on,” she says. “Legislators need to hear from people in their home districts."

Correction: an earlier version of this article left off Jaime Dempsey's first name and title.

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