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State arts funding vulnerable

By Laurel Morales

Flagstaff, AZ – Host intro:
Arizona legislators are strapped with the task of finding 3 billion dollars to close its budget gap. They're considering a solution that would cut 75 percent of state arts funding. Some northern Arizona arts organizations depend on that money and worry about this cut's immediate and long term implications. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales has this report.

SFX: Symphony warms up

The Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra tunes their instruments for the last concert of the season. Executive Director Laura Kelly says it costs about 25-thousand dollars to put on each show. And their largest source of funding is state money.

KELLY: We have a model of government funds, grants, foundation funds, individuals, local businesses but all of these are being affected by the economic downturn. And when your biggest funder potentially crumbles that's a huge blow and frankly I don't know if we would be able to survive.

Kelly says they've already trimmed the fat including three free community concerts. And they've stepped up their fundraising efforts. But Kelly says when people are used to giving to five organizations and now they give to two, the symphony often gets scratched off the donation list.

KELLY: In terms of giving I think people are saying, in times like this do I give to starving children or do I give to classical musicians?' Hmm so we don't have that perception of a dire social need.

Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee John Kavanagh is faced with a similar dilemma on a much larger scale.

KAVANAGH: It is a significant cut given the fact some districts are closing schools we're having trouble fully funding health care and disability we do have to do triage and there are different levels of priority. We aren't abandoning arts funding. I hope they realize it's not quite as high a priority as children's health care or education.

And Kavanagh says it's really not the government's role to completely fund the arts.

KAVANAGH: I think the government can reasonably provide a certain amt of seed money. But there are clearly limits to how much money government can and should give to the arts.

KELLY: That argument about government not funding the arts furthers the idea that government is a separate entity from us.

Again Flagstaff Symphony Director Laura Kelly:

KELLY: I vote and I pay taxes. I am the government just as all the people who fill the concert halls and go to exhibitions they're the government. If the people didn't want the arts then none of them would exist or be patronized.

Flagstaff Cultural Partners executive director John Tannous says the arts community is willing to do its part in finding a state budget solution.

TANNOUS: Everyone in the arts community realizes what's happening in the economy and what's happening in the state budget and that cuts are going to happen. They have to happen to some degree.

Tannous says they just want a fair cut. The Arizona Commission on the Arts has proposed to lawmakers a 25 percent budget cut, which is more in line with what other state agencies have received.

Robert Breunig is a state arts commissioner. He also directs the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. He says from an economic standpoint the arts should be seen as essential. The museum receives state money for its Hopi and Navajo festivals.

BREUNIG: For Arizona to attract the industry and the business that will provide a future economy for the state a vibrant economy for the state you've got to have the educational and cultural amenities that people are looking for. Businesses are not attracted to communities that don't have healthy symphonies, good museums. It's not only about feeding the spirit and soul of our people but it's a good business decision to have a strong arts community.

The state legislature must reach a budget agreement by the next fiscal year which starts July first.

In the meantime Robert Breunig is working on a Plan B. He and others are drafting a ballot initiative that would ask voters if they'd be willing to increase their sales tax by one tenth of one percent to fund the arts.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.