A lot of people had fun last Friday morning. Sixteen organizations receiving Cultural Facilities Program funding sent representatives to our grant awards ceremony in the State House’s Cedar Creek Room. They were met by 11 Arts Council staff, two trustees, the Governor, and more than 20 of their elected state representatives and senators.
It was a party. Or, as is usually the case in the State House, it was a “multi-party.” For about an hour Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and Progressives set aside their differences over health care, property tax reform, transportation funding and other big ticket issues and celebrated the core of Vermont’s Creative Economy—its theaters, concert halls, libraries, historical societies, grange halls, town hall auditoriums, and even a church facility.
Grants totaling more than $200,000 were awarded for physical improvements that will expand facilities’ capacity to support more varied cultural programs and serve broader audiences. For most, grants will be used to improve physical access for people with limited mobility. Thanks to the Governor, however, one grantee will have a special charge.
In his remarks to the recipients, the Governor registered two eye-popping, hand-clapping moments. The first was his suggestion that some of the grants awarded “weren’t exactly sexy” and referred specifically to the Brandon Town Hall’s grant to fund the installation of a state-of-the-art fire suppression system. When the Brandon contingent stood to receive their award they promised (to lots of laughter and applause) the Governor that theirs would be the first ever, state-of-the-art, sexy fire suppression system.
Hardened State House observers, including the WCAX reporter covering the event, assured me that this was the first time ever that the word “sexy” was bandied about so freely in a formal State House ceremony involving so many elected officials. It is further evidence that, in Vermont at least, the “culture wars” of the early 1990s are truly over.
The Governor’s second eye-popping, hand-clapping moment was towards the end of his remarks when, with no prior indication, he took advantage of the moment to express his commitment to the Cultural Facilities program by publicly stating his intention to recommend continuing to fund the program at its $200,000 level in the FY 2009 Capital Appropriations Budget.
To the untrained ear, this may sound like a non-event. The program is already on the books at $200,000 so what’s the big deal? The Governor is recommending status quo, right?
The big deal is that two years ago the Governor’s recommendation was $0; last year it was $50,000. In both years it was the Senate Appropriations committee that led the charge to increase the program to its current $200,000 level (thank you Sen. Phil Scott and Rep. Alice Emmons). With the Governor’s support at the front end of the appropriations process, not only are the late-session, high-tension negotiations between the House and Senate greatly mitigated (if not eliminated), but we are now able to consider ways to expand the program to include non-traditional venues like farmers markets and other municipal spaces where the public gather. Check out H. 185 submitted by Reps. Botzow, Stephens, et. al. regarding farmers markets. It gained some traction last year, but it will get a lot more if it gets attached as an additional funding stream to the Cultural Facilities bill. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, the Cultural Facilities Program came of age last week and sixteen grantees whose programs and activities serve as the glue that keeps Vermont’s communities so vital, were on hand to celebrate. Congratulations one and all!