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Feature Sun Apr 13 2008

An Interview with Ra Joy, Executive Director of the IAAF

Is Illinois getting stingy in its arts funding? On February 20, Governor Rod Blagojevich unveiled his proposed FY2009 budget, which sets state funding for the Illinois Arts Council at $15.2 million -- 23% less than the amount of arts funding granted in FY2007 (but the same amount granted in FY 2008). What gives? Leading the charge for the restoration of lost arts funding is the Illinois Arts Alliance/Foundation, a statewide arts advocacy organization based downtown. IAAF Executive Director Ra Joy recently took a few minutes out of his day to explain the funding situation.

Can you summarize the arts funding situation as it stands right now? Where are we in the process?

The story starts last legislative session. Initially, Governor Blagojevich proposed flat funding for the Illinois Arts Council at $19.8 million in the fiscal year 2008 budget. The General Assembly then approved an increase in funding for the Arts Council on August 10, 2007, boosting the appropriation to $23.1 million. This would have brought the Arts Council's budget close to the $24 million needed to fully fund its activities and services. A $24 million appropriation for the Arts Council has been a cornerstone of the Illinois Arts Alliance's legislative agenda.

The veto budget signed by the Governor on August 23, 2007, however, reduced funding for the Arts Council to $15.2 million. On October 2, 2007, the Illinois House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly (105-4) to override the Governor's veto, but Senate President Emil Jones did not call an override vote in his chamber.

Ultimately, at the end of a very long and difficult legislative process, we saw funding for the Arts Council reduced by $4.5 million -- a 23% cut from fiscal year 2007. In response to this deep cut, the Arts Council was forced to reduce general operating support grants by nearly 30%.

On February 20, 2008, the Governor unveiled his proposed budget for fiscal year 2009. In it, he sets state funding for the Arts Council at $15.2 million -- essentially the same level as last fiscal year.

In March, the Illinois House of Representatives held 19 hearings throughout the state to listen to citizens' reactions to the Governor's budget.

Both the Illinois House and Senate are deliberating the FY09 budget.

What is the governor's rationale for making these cuts? Does he just not get it?

The Governor's veto budget removed approximately $463 million from the budget approved by the Illinois General Assembly. The Governor claimed he was eliminating "pork projects and other non-essential spending." It may seem penny-wise to cut the arts, but it's pound-foolish. What we lose is a lot bigger than what we gain. Fully funding the arts requires only $24 million -- that's less than one tenth of 1% of the total state budget.

Have you made any headway in working toward getting the funding level bumped up for 2009?

To date, arts advocates have generated more than 4,662 messages to the Governor, Illinois General Assembly members, and House and Senate leadership through IAA's online advocacy center. Arts advocates were present at 18 of 19 budget hearings held by the Illinois House. IAA has met with the Governor and key legislators as well as submitted testimony to the House and Senate committees that oversee the Illinois Arts Council's budget.

Print and television media have covered the cuts and their impact on the nonprofit arts sector. The Chicago Reader ran a story on Thursday, April 10 titled, "Art is Long, Money is Short," about an IAA study that tallies the impact of diminished arts funding. Chicago's public access network CAN TV has covered the cuts extensively as well.

What's the impact of these cuts on arts education?

After we found 20% of Illinois public schools have no arts programming -- despite the fact the arts are a fundamental learning area in Illinois -- the Governor and Illinois General Assembly acted to create the Arts & Foreign Language Grant Program through the Illinois State Board of Education in fiscal year 2006.

In just two years, thanks to a $6 million appropriation for the Arts & Foreign Language Grant Program through ISBE, 91 grants were awarded to districts throughout the state. Unfortunately, this small but essential program was zeroed out in Illinois' FY08 budget.

Hundreds of arts advocates and educators contacted the Governor and the Illinois General Assembly, urging them to restore funding for the program. In a March 6 meeting with the Illinois Arts Alliance, the Governor committed to restoring $4 million for the Arts & Foreign Language Grant Program. We're now working with the Illinois General Assembly to increase this investment to $8 million in FY09.

What would be the direct impact of these cuts on the state's nonprofit arts sector?

Through an online survey, we queried the arts field in January and February 2008 to assess the on-the-ground impact that these cuts are having. As a result of their reduced grants from the Arts Council, organizations small and large are scaling back in size and ambition: artistic programs are being altered, education and outreach programs are being reduced, and staff positions are at risk of elimination.

73.4% of responding organizations reported there would be reductions or eliminations to their education, outreach, or free public programs.

Overall, 68.8% of respondents said their artistic programs would be affected. 48.5% said artistic programs would be reduced or eliminated. 5.1% said they will increase pricing on artistic and educational programs.

Small and mid-sized organizations with budgets less than $1 million tend to rely more on funding from the Illinois Arts Council. These organizations are now financially squeezed like never before, and their stability and future are uncertain.

How much support do you give to organizations, and how are these organizations defraying the impact of the budget cuts?

Organizations of all sizes rely on a grant from the Illinois Arts Council to provide much needed general operating support. The majority of organizations report that between 1-10% of their budget comes from the Illinois Arts Council.

Organizations are reducing programs and looking to corporations, foundations, and individual donors for help. 37.2% said they will seek additional support from corporate or private foundations. 27.7% will seek additional support from board members or individual donors.

Mid sized organizations will have to cut staff in addition to reducing artistic programs. 44% of midsized organizations said they will reduce full- or part-time positions in response to the reduction in their IAC grant.

What can local arts supporters do to help you?

Arts advocates should visit IAA's online Legislative Action Center to take action.

To stay on top of IAA news and action alerts, arts advocates should join our e-list. IAA also has an RSS feed.

About the Author:

A native of Johnstown, PA, Lauri Apple is a contender for the title, "world's most renowned bag lady," thanks to her somewhat popular (at times) website, FoundClothing. Lauri has a JD and doesn't know why, but it will take about 30 years for her to pay it off, and that worries her. Her favorite cities are Prague, Pittsburgh, Austin and Chicago. When she's not looking through people's trash, she's either painting, taking pictures, or making/thinking about making cartoons about her weird life.

 
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