Cutting the fat & feeling the pain
When I was asked to blog about a green paper on the future of state arts agencies (SAAs), I wasn’t sure the topic would attract much discussion. Most of the people who will read this paper will be grantees, I thought, so what do they care about SAAs as long as they get their grants? And then I read the paper and I realized I had been short-sighted. If you aren’t one of the few SAA employees in our country, you may not feel this paper is of interest to you. But I urge you to reconsider, read it, and join the discussion.
Mr. Tzougros’ thoughts about SAAs reach far into our society and ask what SAAs can be to the ever-changing landscape of the arts in America. His vision of the future SAA “sets our work in a broader ecology, allowing us to make more meaningful connections to other creative industries and public policy issues, enriching our work on behalf of all citizens.” Heady stuff for a government agency which may or may not be appreciated by the majority of citizens anyway.
Yesterday was Tax Day, and there were gatherings around the country of folks who feel government is too big. Today, our local newspaper ran a prominent story about the possibility of a pay-cut for state workers. The comments posted online in response to this story were shocking to me, a state worker. The vast majority of the 75 comments supported the idea of eliminating state jobs, “cutting the fat” out of state government, and letting state workers “feel the pain” of private-sector employees.
Regardless of where you stand on these issues, the fact that many people feel government spending of out of control is at the forefront of our collective consciousness. If these people were to succeed in “cutting the fat,” would the state arts agencies be among the departments eliminated?
And what if SAAs disappeared? Exactly what would be lost? Is government funding essential to the work of the arts? Would America’s arts infrastructure crumble? Who would pick up the slack? Are SAAs crucial to the life of the arts in America, or have we become settled into a sense of entitlement to public arts funding, in spite of its ups and downs? And what would happen to private funders in the wake of the elimination of public funding?
In his paper, Mr. Tzougros talks of writing a “new narrative for the state arts agency field that grounds us in our service to the citizens of our state while also embracing the expanded context for our work.” However, if SAAs become a casualty of the folks who wish to seriously downsize government spending, what happens to our society and the arts overall?