The Arizona Commission on the Arts is looking for $5 million in its proposed budget for this year, hoping to return to funding levels last seen nearly a decade ago.
The money is not only important for the state arts commission but the different city offices of arts and culture as well.
The state arts commission itself is an agency of Arizona whose constituency is the people of Arizona.
“We are always looking for ways to increase access to opportunities for Arizonans to experience and participate in the arts,” said Communication Director for the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Steve Wilcox. “And to strengthen and support Arizona’s art sector.”
The agency receives funding from the state of Arizona and the federal government for the National Endowment for the Arts.
Prior to the Great Recession of 2008 to roughly 2012, the agency had an annual budget of about $5 million, Wilcox said. That money was slashed in half by budget balancing efforts in the state legislature and the agency’s budget has never recovered.
“Even though the state has long since recovered from the recession,” said Wilcox.
The $5 million would bring the agency closer to peer states in the region and across the country, where state contributions to the arts are considerably higher than Arizona.
In addition, the arts sector in Arizona has grown during the past decade. The arts sector also was uniquely hit hard by the conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many of the activities rely on gathering people in person.
To create its budget proposal, the agency works with its board of governor-appointed commissioners to determine funding priorities for the coming fiscal year.
“We’ve been moving in this direction towards making an ask in the amount of $5 million for the last few years,” said Wilcox. “We’ve seen one-time allocations of up to $2.5 million in past fiscal years and really when you look at what other states of our size and type are contributing to the arts, $5 million is still a pretty modest ask.”
If the agency did receive the proposed budget, the funds would go to a few different places. The majority would go toward direct grants to Arizona nonprofit arts organizations and arts programs throughout the state. It would also go toward programs that enhance the professional development of Arizona’s arts workers as well as programs such as the Creative Aging Initiative, which works to engage older adults in arts activities and arts education learning programs for Arizona youth.
This budget doesn’t only affect the state but is important locally for the city of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.
The Office of Arts and Culture is a city department that handles the art around the city. Advisory to the office is the Commission of Arts and Culture.
According to the city of Phoenix website the commission is, “made up of citizen volunteers with a particular focus on policymaking and financial recommendations for public art and grant investments for the city.”
As far as the city budget goes, the Office of Arts and Culture Director Mitch Menchaca is the first to take a stab at the budget and works with the city manager’s office who creates a trial budget which then goes to mayor and council where they talk about priorities they want to see in the budget.
The city did receive $2.6 million in CARES Act funding and $5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, and that was on top of its annual budget. This means they did receive more funding than the state, which received no appropriations from legislature, and were the largest public funder in the state.
“We are going to try and go back for more ARPA in the next fiscal year,” said Menchaca.
Menchaca would like to see more grants going toward nonprofit arts and culture organizations and artists collective because $5 million split between all these organizations is still a modest investment, especially with the strain COVID-19 has had and is still having on the arts.
“These projects are funded through tax dollars, and we take that very serious, and we are good stewards of it,” said Menchaca. “Some might feel like the government shouldn’t fund the arts, but we are there to leverage public dollars to help organizations that aren’t able to find private funding.”
Kylie Werner is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
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