Kentucky Arts Hangs On, Despite Cuts

Madisonville, KY – In just a few days, arts supporters will be in Kentucky's capitol rallying for the annual Arts Advocacy Day. With drastically reduced spending on the arts in the past few years, attendees will likely have a lot to speak out about. The Kentucky Arts Council officials have cut almost one million dollars from their expenses. That represents a quarter of their operating budget. Most recently, the K-A-C announced six of their grants would go on hiatus. That cuts off another much-needed revenue source for arts organization across the Commonwealth. Angela Hatton has the story.

The Glema Mahr Performing Arts Center in Madisonville has a tradition of bringing high-quality performers to western Kentucky. That's a reputation Executive Director Brad Downall is proud of. Downall says Glema Mahr officials budget an average quarter million dollars a year for performances.

"Our ticket income does not come close to meeting that."

Downall says a full third of his operating budget comes from endowments and grant subsidies. He says grants in particular pay for shows that may be culturally significant, like ballet, but aren't very profitable. For the past few years, Downall has taken advantage of the Performing Arts on Tour grant, which helps fund shows by Kentucky artists. This year, that grant isn't an option. Though, Glema Mahr is connected to Madisonville Community College, so it has other avenues to find the money to host bigger acts.

"There are some art centers and some arts organizations that that support is such a huge part of their budget that if they lose that money, there's no way they can present that same artist that they were looking at."

"I just immediately quit searching."

Up until this point Pennyroyal Arts Council Executive Director Carol Barta had been deciding how to use their Performing Arts on Tour grant. The arts council in Hopkinsville has received the grant for the past several years.

"I'm thinking we may still invite a Kentucky artist, but I try to consider with the grant assistance I can look at the higher priced groups like an orchestra where now we'll probably be looking at an individual artist or a small group."

The Pennyroyal Arts Council is one of the organizations that receives operational funding from the KAC. Money like that, which helps keep the lights on, isn't getting cut. The six grants on the chopping block for fiscal year 2011 cover one-time events or individual artist projects. Dr. Sonya Baker is Murray State University Assistant Dean of the Humanities and Fine Arts and a KAC board member. Baker says the council weighed their options before making cuts.

"The arts council looked at what are the core things that we really want to maintain, and the operational funding, the recognition of individual artists who are creating things, and the educational aspect still have to be maintained. There are other things that perhaps could float a little while without some funding."

This isn't the first time arts organizations have been asked to make do with less. Glema Mahr's Brad Downall says before the grant hiatus, the Kentucky Arts Council cut regional support staff, who provided training and networking outside the cities of Louisville, Lexington, and Frankfort, the area known as the Golden Triangle.
"It is tougher to get those services out into eastern Kentucky and western Kentucky. So from our standpoint in this region, we've been feeling that impact for a while."

Regional arts organizations have already begun looking for other grant programs. Both the Pennyroyal Arts Council and the Glema Mahr Center are investigating applications through the Southern Arts Federation. The SAF supports programs in a nine state region.

"But there you're looking at more competition for fewer dollars, because I'm sure that the Southern Arts Federation funding sources are also drying up."

Organization directors also plan to beef up their local fundraisers this year, and investigate more regional partnerships. Sonya Baker is quick to point out that the KAC's grants could be back for fiscal year 2012.

"They're also programs that are valued by constituencies, and so we do have faith that when we're on better times we reinstate the funding for those programs."

For the KAC, every year is a waiting game. Baker says what happens in the future all depends on how much the Kentucky General Assembly decides to allot to the fine arts.