A Strong Equation: How State Arts Advocacy Efforts are Paying Off!

Posted by Mr. Jay H. Dick, Feb 21, 2020 0 comments

This is an interesting equation. Basically, if your state has a State Arts Agency (SAA) that is engaged in thoughtful programming, a strong statewide arts advocacy organization, and advocates who are proactively engaged with your state’s existing political leadership, more funding/pro-arts policy are possible!

The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) recently published their FY 2020 State Arts Agency Revenues Report (see my previous blog post regarding this report). By any measure, the report paints a very positive picture for state funding of the arts, with year-to-year appropriations increasing by more than 37% to a grand total of almost $495 million in total legislative appropriations. While this is not an all-time high when adjusted for inflation, it is a huge increase and we should be proud of our collective advocacy work.

But wait—I hear some of you saying that because the economy is doing well, it stands to reason that SAA appropriations would be higher. While it is true that a strong economy makes increases more likely, a strong economy alone cannot explain this year’s massive increase.

Let’s compare this 37% increase for SAAs to overall state budgets. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers’ Fiscal Survey of States Report, state general funds on average were expected to grow around 4.8% for FY 2020. In other words, the arts did over seven times better than the average state appropriation (37% compared to 5%). When you dig into NASAA’s report, you will notice that a lot of the 37% increase is for one-time line items for other arts and cultural projects. While this still counts towards legislative support for the arts, it can be a little misleading. But if you take out the line items, SAA appropriations still increased by 14.5%, a figure three times the average state appropriations growth (14.5% compared to 4.8%).

State Arts Agencies

Why are governors and state legislatures adding funding to state arts agencies at three times the average rate of increases for other state agencies? I think the answer is clear. SAAs in 2020 are vastly different from the SAAs of 1965, or even 1990 or 2000. The core mission of SAAs still includes grantmaking, but that process has become more thoughtful with regard to geography, diversity, and medium. In addition, programming that actively seeks to assist other state agencies with their missions—such as arts in the military programming, arts in juvenile justice, arts in aging, the list goes on—shows that SAAs have become very adept at focusing their programs in ways that appeal to governors and legislatures who traditionally have not been as supportive as they are now. For this, I offer my congratulations to the SAAs.

Further, the way state arts advocacy organizations (those in the State Arts Action Network, or SAAN) and arts advocates in general talk about the work of the SAAs also has changed. No longer do advocates primarily talk about why the arts are good for the country’s collective conscious. Rather, arts advocates talk about how the arts are good for the economy, for business growth, for tourism, for job creation, and for increased tax revenues—all things that governors and legislators care deeply about, regardless of political party.

State Arts Action Network Organizations

The last piece of this equation is those statewide arts advocacy organizations collectively known as State Arts Action Network (SAAN) organizations. Americans for the Arts is pleased to house the SAAN as one of our key networks. Forty-two states have some form of a SAAN organization, representing many types of organizations, which means their capacity and effectiveness differ greatly from state to state and organization to organization. Some of these state advocacy groups have been around for more than 30 years, but most are 15 to 20 years old, while a good number are less than 10 years old and a handful younger than 5 years. Over the last 15 years or so, these organizations have become a strong pillar of support for the arts in their state and in their advocacy efforts for the SAAs.

On the heels of the NASAA report, I thought it would be a useful exercise to examine the state appropriations for states with and without active SAAN organizations.

In those states with an active SAAN, the average increase for SAA appropriations was a massive 51%—which is considerably more than the 37% average for all 50 states. If you remove the five states (CA, FL, IL, SC, and TX) that had substantial line items which resulted in an SAA increase of more than 100 percent, the average increase for SAA appropriations in states with an active SAAN is 13.6%. For comparison, states without an active SAAN saw an average increase of just 0.6% for their SAA’s budget.

Let me restate this: Excluding the five mega line item increase states, a state arts agency in a state with an active State Arts Action Network organization saw an average percent increase of over 21 times that of a state without an active SAAN—13.6% vs 0.6%.

When one looks at raw dollars, the comparison between states with an active SAAN and without is even more stark. Active SAAN states have a cumulative dollar increase of $128,599,731, or $14,146,222 without the five mega line item states. States without an active SAAN have a cumulative dollar DECREASE of $16,623.

A $14 million increase, compared to a $16,000 decrease.

This leads me to wonder: how much is an active SAAN worth to your state? If you have one, support it! If you don’t have one, contact me and let’s see if we can help create or energize the one you might already have. I think it is pretty clear that an active SAAN organization benefits everyone who cares about the arts and culture in your state.

Political Environment

On the subject of political parties: A common myth is that Democrats support the arts and Republicans oppose them. I am always quick to point out that this is not the case, and that to assume otherwise courts disaster.

Looking again at the NASAA report, I took a little time to see if there were any correlations between SAA appropriations, political parties, and active SAAN organizations.

As many of you might know, state governments have become increasingly controlled by one political party. Currently, there are 21 states where the Republicans control the governor’s mansion and both legislative chambers—we call this a political “trifecta.” (I have included Nebraska as a trifecta even though it has a unicameral legislature, as the Republican party controls both the governor’s mansion and the state senate.) Conversely, Democrats have a trifecta in 15 states, leaving 14 states with shared political control. In 12 of these 14 states with mixed leadership (excluding Alaska and Minnesota), one party controls both legislative chambers while the governor belongs to the other party. Life in state capitals is becoming more and more partisan. Luckily, the arts effectively bridge this partisan gap.

Looking at the SAA appropriations, 20 states with Republican trifectas had an increase. Let me emphasize this: Republicans control all levers of state government in 21 states and in all but one, they increased funding for their SAA. That is impressive. (My apologies to Indiana, which experienced a 2% budget cut.)

In the 15 Democratic trifectas, 13 states had an increase in funding; and 11 of the 14 states with mixed control also had an increase to their SAA’s budget. My apologies to the Democratic trifecta states with budget decreases, New York (0.1% decrease) and Rhode Island (15% decrease). Louisiana (-2.9%), Michigan (-10%), and North Carolina (-9.1%) round out the other states with budget decreases.

What makes this even more interesting, and smashes the myth about political party support of the arts and culture, are these two statistics:

  • Republican Trifecta States have an average increase of 36.66% in SAA funding.
  • Democratic Trifecta States have an average increase of 43.18% in SAA funding.

I am not a professional statistician, but 36% vs. 43% are not that far apart given this kind of increase. So, keeping in mind that the average state budget increased by a little under 5%, governors and legislators in states with one party control approved increases that were 6 to 8 times that average, and political party control didn’t seem to matter all that much. Remember, you can’t spell “bipARTisan” without the arts. (For the record, mixed leadership states have an average increase of 16.5% in SAA funding, which is well below both trifecta state averages.)


In conclusion, we have much to celebrate at the state level when it comes to support for the arts and culture. But, as advocates know, you never can rest on your successes, as you never know what the future holds.

To the State Arts Agencies: Keep up the great work and great programming. To the SAANs: Keep up the good fight and continue to educate key decision makers about the value of the arts and culture. To everyone else: Support these organizations, make your voice be heard, participate in advocacy efforts, and lastly, go support your favorite art form or group.

Onward we charge!

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