Monday, August 03, 2009

The Arts, the Budget and Pennsylvania: I'm just sayin'...

It is now August and Pennsylvania is still without a budget. There's no need, in this space, to go into the details of what is (or is not) going on, why it's been allowed to happen or how (if ever) it's going to be resolved. My focus, here, is on the amount of funding allocated for the arts in Pennsylvania.

When I attended the “Save the Arts in Pennsylvania” Rally in the Capitol Rotunda last month, the place was packed with screaming, cheering, clapping, chanting supporters. “Art is the heart of Pennsylvania” was one of the big points – “you can't spell SMART [or, for that matter, HEART] without ART” being one of the big points regarding the role of arts in the already beleaguered education funding.

But we're talking about $14,000,000 in arts funding. That may sound like of a lot of money but when considering a couple of billion dollars between Rendell's proposal and the Senate Republicans', it really just a dribble in the bucket.

Of course, the argument is, if you're pitting health care and police protection against something viewed merely as “entertainment,” no one does anyone a favor by this either/or mentality. The old argument of “Shoes or Shakespeare” is just old...

In Allegheny County alone, the Arts (in various manifestations) generated over $340 Million in “local economic activity” and supported the equivalent of over 10,000 full-time jobs. It also contributed $33 Million in tax revenues, including $18.5 Million that went to the state. That's what the Pittsburgh area alone generated for the state's income in 2005. In return, the entire state was hoping to get $14 Million back.

Now, if you think this is all about supporting “elitist” organizations where people dressed in furs and diamonds throw air-kisses at their friends in the lobbies of posh cultural palaces, I should mention a Philadelphia-based report that said statewide various programs and performances drew 30,000,000 people, generated $2,000,000,000 and supported 62,000 jobs.

The rotunda at the capitol was packed with kids that day, with people in shorts and t-shirts and while some of them were artists and some of them were students who'd benefited by an after-school theater or music program, some of them were people who were “consumers” and supporters of the arts, whether they contribute thousands of dollars or just buy tickets or who just appreciate the value of an arts program that has, in one way or another, made their lives richer or given their kids a different perspective on life today.

In fact, during the 90 minutes of the rally with all of its speeches, no mention was made of ANY of the classical music organizations in the Harrisburg area – not the Harrisburg Symphony or any of the community orchestras in the area, not Market Square Concerts (by name), not Concertante, not the opera companies, and I don't think I heard mention of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, either (a fixture on the national dance scene as a training ground for ballet dancers going off to major companies around the country). If I'm not mistaken, neither were the orchestras in Lancaster and York mentioned, but that could have been during the cheering and drum-beating for some of the other groups and programs from across the state that were.

The thing is, there are many arts organizations that produce all manner of cultural programs for people who live all over this state, not just in the big cities. They're all in danger.

If the legislators get their wish, there will no funding for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the body that doles out grants to support arts groups across the state. That means Pennsylvania will be the ONLY state in the nation NOT to have such a council.

So you might say “well, then, they can survive on the National Endowment for the Arts.” Except grants from the federal government are usually tied into matching grants from the state governments. So it's more than just cutting back or eliminating state funding.

To raise the $14 Million being cut from the budget, each Pennsylvania tax-payer would need to pay a nickel-a-day or an additional $2.60 for the year.

Another news item this past week reported that convicted former State Senator Vincent Fumo will lose his state pension of $100,500/year. Now, I know not every state government retiree would be getting that much annually, but 139 pensions of that size would equal... oh, about $14,000,000...

Now, by stating these next two observations, I'm not placing them in an either/or competition. I'm just sayin'...

Also in the news the day of the Arts Rally, there was a report that said a proposal restored $7,000,000 to the budget to support the Scotland School (originally zeroed out so the school would have to close). Whether this will be enough to keep the school in business and maintain whatever benefits students will receive from it – certainly, anything that will benefit the children of veterans is a good thing – I don't know, but I'm thinking there's money for 263 students in one school (as of June, 2009) that's half the amount of money the Arts would love to see budgeted for thousands of students across the entire commonwealth.

I'm just sayin'...

Over the weekend with the likelihood the Harley-Davidson motorcycle plant will close in York because business is down, losing all those jobs, and the fact other states are now courting the company to come build in their states, the Governor quickly proposed $15,000,000 as a start in what's “probably going to be a $100,000,000 endeavor.”

I'm not arguing the importance of the Harley plant to York County's economy or even to the state's. True, Harley can make a lot more noise than the Arts groups and get more attention, but I'm just sayin'...

It's not just about State Workers being held hostage because they're not getting paid (but are still expected to work just as much as they do when they are getting paid).

Most artists, arts organizations and community-based after-school programs live from pay-check to pay-check, too: for them, it's a way of life, not just something they have to face every year at Budget Time. Nobody's coming up with special legislation to bail them out...

(And I have to wonder: if health care reform and stimulus packages smack of socialism, why is “Cash for Clunkers” so popular? I'm just sayin'...)

In times of financial crisis, it may be unrealistic to be idealistic, but programs like these are not luxury items. They're also the soul of Pennsylvania.

But, ya know, I'm just sayin'...

- Dr. Dick

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