Two days after Arts Achievement Day in the Vermont State House I took my family to Florida for Spring Break, leaving behind a cultural afterglow in the State House that would carry us through the end of the session. I returned 10 days later to find the legislature deep in its final discussions—full of new economic incentive plans laid on at the 11th hour, and trying to figure out how to fix education, improve health care, handle criminals, and fill pot-holes.
I also returned to a legislature that would, in the end, recommend a 2.5% increase to our appropriation and only a 10% (not 25%) cut to our Cultural Facilities Grant program. This is a success story, and here’s why:
First, more of you participated in Arts Achievement Day than ever before and left legislators with the very clear understanding of why the arts are important in our communities, our educational efforts, and in our economic development efforts. Your presence in the State House was felt strongly and very positively.
Second, the Senate had the most difficult row to hoe since the latest earnings projections for the State came out right after the House finished work on its Appropriations Bill approved an additional 2% increase over the Governor’s recommend. Thus, the Senate had to make $25 million dollars worth of cuts to the House bill. That we survived with essentially a cost of living increase is, frankly, a minor miracle.
Third, the Capital Construction Bill, in which the Cultural Facilities Grant program is located, had to absorb the bulk of the emergency transportation spending which forced a $50,000 (25%) cut on the $200,000 recommended by the Governor. The fact that the legislature put back $30,000 of this funding in the final day or two is a significant statement about the importance of our cultural facilities to our state’s economy.
So, am I disappointed? Yes and no. We did not get the additional $90,000 we needed in order to have funds to support community-based Art Fits Vermont (puzzle project) activities. And our Cultural Facilities Grant program took a 10% hit which means there will be one or two fewer cultural facilities grants awarded next fall.
We have a much stronger advocacy presence than ever before with a much clearer, cleaner message that is being heard…
We survived what several folks have described as “a bloodbath…” and will continue to press our case into the election season.
We have very good relations with the Governor, the Administration, the House and Senate leadership, and leadership on the four “money” committees: House and Senate Appropriations and Institutions Committees. This is due, in no small part, to all of you who wrote letters, made phone calls, or visited the State House this spring.
I attended a nice arts gala in St. Albans last Friday, the day before the legislature adjourned. The Governor was also there and in his remarks he was quite articulate in describing the increasingly important role the arts and cultural sector is playing in revitalizing Vermont. He clearly “gets it.”
The more important question, however, is where will he go next? Where will his opponent in the fall election stand on the arts? For that matter, where does your legislator stand? His/her opponent?
You can tell where this is going, can’t you? Our work has only just begun. We have a lot of tools to use, and resources to bring to bear on educating all of the candidates for election next fall on the value of supporting the arts. The design of our downtown spaces, our roadways and bridges; the ability of our schools to instill a sense of imagination and civic engagement in our children; the ability for our cultural institutions to serve as the “reserve bank” of creative social capital in our communities—all of these and so much more depend on a healthy arts and cultural sector. A healthy arts and cultural sector, in turn, depends so much on decisions made by people you elect. Make sure, during this election season, they have ample opportunity to “get it.”
We will be putting together information for you to use when examining the positions of your candidates for office. Remember, if the arts are important to you (and if you’re reading this, I hope I may assume that they are!) then they also must be important to your legislators.
In the meantime, “Art Fits Vermont” kicked off with all the pomp and circumstance a press conference in the State House could muster. Our funding and operational partners are all hard at work creating puzzle pieces. Keep an eye on our website for more news and information about this incredible project.
Finally, get out and enjoy the sunshine. An while you’re out there, enjoy some art…!