Unable to see the tax revenue for the tourists, the Legislature has signed off on a state budget for the coming fiscal year that further reduces support for Decentralized Arts Funding and Statewide Arts Grants by about a third. House Bill 1, the roughly $25 billion state spending plan for the 2012-2013 year, included a Senate amendment that slashed state support for arts and culture by about $500,000, reducing the already paltry pickings to just under $2 million combined for DAF and SAG.
The proposed funding in HB 1, which will likely be signed today by Gov. Bobby Jindal, represents a steady and dramatic erosion in state support for arts and culture, which as a combined economic engine accounts for millions of dollars annually in tax revenue through tourism and other forms of cultural commerce. In 2009, before Jindal and state lawmakers blew a $1 billion budget surplus, combined funding for DAF and SAG was about $5 million.
The funding cut means that regional grant-distribution agencies like the Acadiana Center for the Arts will have about one third less revenue to distribute in their areas. There are nine such hubs for distributing state arts funding, the AcA included, and those agencies will have to make some difficult choices moving forward; namely, whether to distribute fewer grants or the same number of grants but in smaller amounts. Either way, one third less is one third less, and some small-town museums, festivals, community theater groups and other arts/culture agencies will no doubt be shuttered.
Gerd Wuestemann, the AcA’s executive director, says he anticipates two things as a result of the cuts: “Some of the smaller organizations that do good work, especially in the more rural areas, may have to close doors,” he says. “And I think it will result in fewer [a/c] projects and less income to the communities and less vibrancy in our lifestyle, and I think that’s a shame.”
A sham(e), indeed.
The current state of arts funding represents an unyielding assault on Louisiana culture by JindalCo, which annually proposes draconian cuts to a/c. The proposed funding level of just under $2 million is where the governor has envisioned state support for the arts. In 2009 the AcA distributed more than $230,000 to arts/culture producers in the eight-parish Acadiana region. By 2010 that level had fallen by about $30,000. But Wuestemann says even then the AcA’s distribution of arts grants made an impact: “In 2010, we distributed $200,000 that resulted in 1,500 activities — performances or shows — and employed 1,000 local artists and were seen by 200,000 people. So, if you think about that, it’s $1 per person to have access in rural areas to cultural activities. That is a phenomenal return on investment — it feeds local economies; it produces tax money for local coffers; it produces social profit and quality of life, oftentimes creating the only access to arts and culture in local parishes.”
In the coming year Wuestemann anticipates the center will have about $120,000 to spread among the many a/c groups. Proponents of robust state funding for the arts argue that such support has a significant return on investment — 7/1 by most estimates, meaning for every dollar the state invests in arts/culture it earns $7 in tax revenue from the cultural economy, tourism primarily. Unfortunately, myopic lawmakers often see arts and culture as a luxury.
“I have a feeling that with this cut we will further weaken the cultural infrastructure of the state,” Wuestemann predicts. “And I think that’ll reduce our ability to attract tourists, our ability to keep our best and brightest talents here, and in the long run I think it will endanger our communities because in my opinion culture is not just something you do in Louisiana, it’s very much more the fabric of communities; it’s our greatest tourist attraction, one of strongest export articles and I think it feeds us financially in the state.”
MAY 22 This post was written the day after the second line shooting in NOLA, by Brentin Mock. Mock is a friend of Deb "Big Red" Cotton, a blogger who was shot in the back and was seriously injured. It is a raw, emotional piece of writing, something the writer obviously felt he needed to get off his chest. But it raises questions that can't be easily dismissed, and might give some insight into where the source of these events truly is.
MAY 22 In this Baton Rouge Business Report post, Rolfe McCollister considers the privatization of bus service in Baton Rouge. After decades of under-funding, it is a mess, and although a tax (partially) passed last year, improvement hasn't happened yet. McCollister apparently feels it is time to let private business get in on the transit business.
MAY 22 This post on Bayou Buzz by Jeff Crouere urges the defeat of a bill that would grant modest pay increases over the next several years to the state's judges and clerks of court. The state is in no position to fund pay hikes, Crouere argues, with the pay increases costing a total of $9 million over several years. It sends the wrong message to the (proverbial) hard-working people of Louisiana, he says.
MAY 22 The Advocate reports here that State Treasurer John Kennedy is complaining about a meeting of the corporation that oversees the state's tobacco settlement. The Governor wanted it restructured, and he has some support, but not a lot. The corporation agreed with his plan, but Kennedy didn't, and it appears that the meeting was noticed in a manner completely different than that of all previous meetings. Kennedy's given to hyperbole, but in this case the fish don't smell too fresh.
MAY 22 In this Advocate story, Carencro Police Chief Carlos Stout says the recent federal indictment of a strip club owner is all wrong. The indictment alleges that drugs and prostitution went on with impunity because club staff made arrangements with "local" police. Stout says it never happened, and while his cops do work security in the parking lot, they're not allowed inside.
MAY 22 This amusing post in DIG Baton Rouge recounts an ad that ran on Craig's List recently; the advertiser was seeking tenants for a Beauregard Town house. He knew his market, and wrote an ad that the most ironical hipster couldn't resist. Apparently, he really did know his market, because the ad worked like a charm.
MAY 22 In this post in The Lens, Mark Moseley comments on the rhetoric Gov. Jindal employed in trying to save his tax "reform" package. One interesting point concerns Jindal's use of his brother, Nikesh, in a little story. Nikesh left Louisiana because of his inability to get a decent job, the story goes, but the story won't hold water: Nikesh lives in DC, which has an income tax level comparable to Louisiana, Moseley says. If income taxes caused the dismal situation, it should exist in DC too. Right?
MAY 22 This post by columnist John Maginnis traces the trajectory of the bill that would fund construction at community and technical colleges -- and bypass the Board of Regents and traditional higher ed funding mechanisms. Sure, it will bust the legislature's self-imposed debt limit, but some leges feel that there's more need (because there is more growth) in the community and technical college area than in the university area, he says.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.