Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Why is our request of the legislature so disproportionately large?

I am asked this question daily on my trips to the State House.

As I reported in the last issue, almost everyone I talked to in the State House was surprised and impressed by the number of emails they received from our recent Arts Alert. Some were also annoyed, but frankly, everyone I know is annoyed by the noise a squeaky wheel makes . . .

. . . which is why we got a little grease last week!

The Appropriations Bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee last week included an increase of $16,000 for the Arts Council, 11,000 more than the amount recommended by the Governor. Yes, it is a far cry from the $180,000 we had hoped for, but it is a start.

So now the discussion moves over to the Senate. The Senate also received emails by the hundreds and our testimony was as well-received there as it had been in the House. I am prepared for the debate about the merits of supporting this program, but one question that was asked during our testimony made me realize that people still don’t know why we seem to be asking for such a disproportionate amount of money at this time.

The question was whether we were asking for additional state support to offset lost funds from federal sources. The answer is no. Even with the 40% cut back in 1996, federal funds still are significantly higher than our state appropriation. No, the “disproportionality” of our request is the result of two things: we haven’t kept pace even with inflation, and we haven’t kept pace with the overall growth of state government.
Since 1991, our general fund appropriation has increased at an average pace that is far less than inflation. In 1991 support from the Council meant a lot more (in terms of cash) than it does today for those organizations who are still receiving support from us. But recent data has shown that the Arts field has grown significantly during the past 16 years—that there are many more organizations competing for these fewer dollars. Ironically, if our appropriation has simply kept pace with inflation, it would just about close that gap between the blue and red lines in the above chart. Go figure.

But it gets even more interesting. Over the same time frame, the General Fund of the State of Vermont (the source of our line item appropriation) has increased about 86%. A lot of this increase is due to the rapidly escalating costs of education and health care as well as the additional social service burdens placed on the States by the 2001 and 2003 federal tax cuts. Nevertheless, in 1991 the Vermont general fund appropriation was about $600 million. Now it is approaching $1.1 billion. Had the Arts Council’s appropriation kept pace with the General Fund, our current appropriation would be closing in on $900,000 ($480,000 times 1.86).

But hey, we’re not THAT greedy! Let’s take a look instead at the growth of the State’s General Fund during just the past five years:
In FY02 our budget was about $512,000. Had our appropriation kept pace the General Fund, our funding from the state today would be just under $681,000.

Why is this all important? Vermont is moving ever closer to understanding that creativity and entrepreneurship is at the base of our future. Whether you are an artist or a salesperson, a ski bum or a plumber, your future—and your children’s future—is going to depend more and more on how well you adapt to an ever-changing world, a world of ideas and services not manufactured goods. Our future is going to require a different world view in which Islam is no more our enemy than Buddhism, where we can celebrate Ramadan as easily as we celebrate Mardi Gras. How will we get there? How will we adapt?

It starts in the family, it continues in school and in summer camp, and crescendos in college. If we’re lucky it resonates throughout all our lives.

What is it?

It is exposure to art and culture. It is experimenting with creativity in art, music, design and dance. It is the fundamental relationship that art and culture have to community and humanity. Our cultural expressions are what we communicate about ourselves to future generations. It forms the core of learning and experience that fuels the Creative Economy, and towns all over Vermont are discovering it; discovering its power to engage new leadership, new ideas, and new community energy. We are in it up to our eyeballs. And right now it’s hungry and needs feeding. The tab for dinner next year? $180,000.