Friday, December 15, 2006

The Vermont State Budget and the Arts

In my last column I tried to contextualize the National Endowment for the Arts budget in ways that might amuse or even shock readers. I promised to do the same for our own State General Fund and Arts Council appropriation in this column. So here goes.

The average taxpayer shells out $3,485 to fund the Vermont General Fund of $1.07 billion, of which about $530,000 supports arts activities, institutions and education throughout Vermont. Of the $3485 “average taxpayer” bill about $1.73 goes to support the programs and services of the Vermont Arts Council. Expressed as a percentage, the Arts Council’s appropriation is 495 ten-thousandths of 1% of the total State General Fund appropriation.

So here we are again—impossibly small percentages of impossible-to-imagine amounts of money. Let me make it a little more real for you . . .


* an eight-hour school day, the Arts Council’s appropriation would represent 14.26 seconds of arts activities. Coupled with its share of the Federal dollars (reported in my last column), the total amount of time available for the arts in this “school” would be 16.82 seconds per eight-hour day; barely enough time to sing the first line of the Vermont State Song. If the state were to budget “one minute” for the arts in this eight hour school day, the Council’s budget would jump to $2,229,000—slightly more than four times its current investment. For the record, this is unlikely to happen in our lifetime.

* a $30,000 per year salary, the amount of money available for the arts would be $14.85 per year—or about 57 cents out of every biweekly paycheck. If the legislature were to increase that investment to $1 every two weeks, the Council’s budget would make a more modest jump to $928,000. This might happen in our lifetime.

* equivalent to the annual budget of Montpelier, and the legislature were to apply the same percentage of its budget towards the Arts as Montpelier does (.066%), the State appropriation to the Arts Council would increase even more modestly to $706,200. If our economic development policy makers embrace Bill Schubart’s recent column in Seven Days, this might happen in the next couple of years.

Sadly, early indications are that we will be lucky if our budget stays at its current level. But I don’t like “lucky.” I’m the kind of guy who will go for the “one-minute of the eight-hour school day” and settle (reluctantly) for 30 seconds this year—more than doubling our appropriation—and going after the next 30 seconds next year. I’m the kind of guy who likes to point out that if we just charge each of the 46,000 tax payers who earn more than $75,000 a year the price of one family sized pizza with four toppings, we could triple the State’s investment in the Arts. (Now there’s a good idea!!)

But here’s the rub. I’m not going to do that. I can’t. It’s not because the cause isn’t noble and worth at least a pizza or two.

It’s because advocacy, in the end, is NOT about the money. All I’ve done is give you a sense of proportion when thinking about arts funding. None of us in the arts have enough money. Probably, we never will. Therefore, arts support is about something bigger. Something better.

I’ll clarify what I mean in my next column. In the meantime, go to a concert or two. Buy your loved ones gifts that someone you know, or know of, made by hand. (Palette note cards, anyone?) Support your local creative economy. And above all, be safe.

Happy Holidays.

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