The 2005 hurricanes have brought additional weight to Smith's work and mission. "I have felt compelled to write more," he says. "As an artist, you get something out of times like these. Disasters are conducive to all forms of art. Most of it is born of chaos and conflict anyway."
These days, Smith dons a suit for his craft. With his dangling earring, wild white hair and shiny bald head, he lobbies the Legislature on behalf of the Louisiana Partnership for the Arts, a public-private advocacy group. He still has street smarts and a gritty bravado, but it softens with the sound of his measured delivery.
He's among the brave souls that killed the message of "art for art's sake" around the State Capitol a few years back, opting instead for a beefier "art for the economy" credo. Smith can banter on for hours about art driving tourism, creating jobs and generating tax dollars, but he knows there's not a lot of that happening right now. "We're facing some really tough times," he says. "Most of the artists in Louisiana depend on tourism, and it's just not there. People don't look at art as a business, but it is. We're all going to be suffering for awhile."
Even though Katrina and Rita have created new needs on the regional level, public funding for the arts ' from state and federal sources ' has remained virtually unchanged over the past year. With no additional money on the way, regional arts councils are being pushed to become more self-sustainable and to diversify their sources of income.
At the Acadiana Arts Council, officials are reassessing its services and programs in an effort to accommodate all the new patrons and artists that have relocated to the region. Executive Director Buddy Palmer says performance shows have been selling out, program attendance has doubled in some cases and child registration is on the rise. "Public funding doesn't address some of the new activity we have experienced," Palmer says. "There is a new definition of need in the wake of Katrina and Rita. We have people looking for things to do here that they did back home, and there are also displaced artists. The energy of the community has changed, and our needs are greater."
The Acadiana Arts Council receives roughly $270,000 a year from the state, based on a per capita formula. That means the region should receive a financial boost following the 2010 census, which is expected to show more residents in the region. That anticipated growth is offset, however, by the upcoming expiration of a three-year cooperative endeavor agreement with the Lafayette Downtown Development Authority. The deal nets about $100,000 annually for the council through monthly payments, but it comes to an end in September 2007.
"We had a board retreat recently where we talked about all of our pending financial needs," Palmer says. "And while we don't have a solution in place today, we are working on it and know we have a looming deadline."
As the region continues to deal with these challenges, Veronique Le Melle, executive director of the state Division of the Arts, is pushing the council to use its own cash for growth and to lean heavier on private sources. She hopes this strategy will bolster the regional infrastructure so a city like Lafayette might be better suited in the future to handle displaced artists following a disaster. "We are starting to turn to more investment'minded funding," Le Melle says. "We want [the regional centers] to put on their own shows and to invest in their own infrastructure. If we can be better prepared to help artists move into another region during times like these, we won't be losing them to other states."
While searching for alternative funding sources is usually a good idea under any situation, Le Melle says it's now a survival tactic. On the federal level, the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent funding agency, initially sent a small amount of emergency money to regional directors, but it virtually went unnoticed. Additionally, the NEA helped shore up an arts relief fund overseen by the division, but Le Melle says all of the federal arts funding sent to Louisiana thus far has remained "about even" compared to previous years.
On the state level, the Legislature has set aside $4.7 million for the Division of the Arts for the current fiscal year, which is about $100,000 less than last year and almost half a million dollars less than the $5.1 million budget the division had in 2001. Half of all state money dedicated to the arts trickles down to parishes based on population numbers, and the other half goes into direct grants.
One of the reasons arts funding is presently stable in Louisiana is because officials found $750 million in new cash earlier this year ' mainly from sales taxes and gambling revenues ' and it was immediately pumped into the operating budget. The post-storm boom, however, won't last long, according to some studies and forecasts. Le Melle and Smith acknowledge it's a possibility that major cuts are around the corner, and it's unknown how that might impact arts funding.
"It depends on how we keep up with our grassroots," Smith says. "If we do nothing, we will be cut more. But we are no longer in the habit of just saying, 'Please don't cut us.' As long as any cut is proportionate, then I can't complain because the arts will be in the same boat as everyone else."
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is courting young voters in several appearances across Louisiana this week, talking about her support for legislation that could lower students' college costs.
Coton de tulear joins Westminster; Paypal splitting from Ebay; first US Ebola diagnosis and more national and international news for Wednesday, October 1, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stage 4 vet takes on cancer and reminds us all what it really means to get involved.
Is Mary fading as Vitter solidifies his lock on the fourth floor?
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration has renegotiated contracts for six LSU hospital privatization deals, hoping to reach a compromise with federal health officials that will keep Medicaid dollars flowing to the privatized patient services.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is defending her record on gun rights, seeking to rebut sharp criticism from the NRA in a state where the right to bear arms is given special constitutional protection.
Citizens, you have less than a week to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election. Remember, if you don’t vote you can’t complain about the outcome. Well, you can but it’s kind of hypocritical.
After being forced out by its former landlords last year, the community garden has a new location and a 10-year lease.
The party says it has hit a milestone, reaching 10,000 registered voters in the state.
Defensive captain Junior Galette is disgusted by the Saints' sluggish start.
The use of $60 million in Louisiana's public school financing formula to pay for nearly three dozen charter schools violates the state constitution, a statewide teachers' union claimed Monday in a lawsuit.
February trial date indicates parties were unable to negotiate a settlement.
There was a time when United Ballot had a political stranglehold so tight on Lafayette’s black community it was nearly unbreakable, but that grip might be loosening.
The race for Lafayette city marshal may not be the most exciting of this year’s local political contests, but it could prove the most historic.
With the DA’s race too close to call and negative media coverage of Mike Harson on the ebb, will challenger Keith Stutes take the gloves off?
Gov. Bobby Jindal has been viewed as a health care policy wonk, and he's tried to build on that image ahead of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, positioning himself as the candidate with substantive ideas.
Jerry Jones watched what he called the best effort he's seen in 25 years as owner of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half, and that was before Tony Romo had the longest scramble of his career and DeMarco Murray finished off yet another 100-yard game.
Two of the most recognizable women in Republican politics, Sarah Palin and Mary Matalin, have been heavily involved in Louisiana’s current election cycle.
Even though the Louisiana Democratic Party has thrown its support behind former Gov. Edwin Edwards’ congressional bid, national Democrats are not expected to follow suit.
“[Mike] is no longer the energetic ADA that his recent ad is trying to portray. I just think Mike needs to get the hell out.” — Kermit Harson, DA Mike Harson’s brother
The New Orleans Saints have listed Jonathan Goodwin as questionable for Sunday night's game in Dallas, raising the prospect that second-year pro Tim Lelito will start at center for the first time.
The endorsements keep coming for District 9 LPSB candidate Jeremy Hidalgo, who picked up his fifth vow of support Thursday, this time from the Chamber’s political action committee.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter will be out knocking on doors this weekend with anti-abortion activists encouraging people to vote against his colleague, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.
The ACLU of Louisiana has sued Abbeville's mayor and police chief over a policy barring police from any social media use showing the city in a bad light.