With the U.S. government’s budget topping $3.5 trillion, one would think that the trifling $155 million that the National Endowment for the Arts receives annually would hardly raise an eyebrow. Yet, as they say, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” and arts organizations across the country find themselves fighting for funding. The last chairman of the NEA, Broadway producer Rocco Landesman, retired eight months ago. Landesman recognized the power of the NEA in communities across the United States and extensively explored the impact of the arts on local economies. In a 2010 report to the National Council of the Arts, Landesman concluded that every $1 spent by the Endowment generated approximately $26 locally.
Unfortunately, Fort Worth is not exempt from the challenges facing the arts on a national level. One year ago, Fort Worth’s budget struggles forced the city to slash its arts funding by nearly 50 percent. Community arts supporters lobbied extensively. Fort Worth to be among the lowest contributors to the arts,” However, the budget was ultimately cut, and many of us who had already planned the year’s programming were left, once again, with the question of how to make up the lost money.
Understanding that continuous cuts to arts funding were not a responsible long-term solution to the city’s fiscal challenges, Mayor Betsy Price selected a task force to help find a stable pool of money for the arts. The mayor and city council were proactive in their desire to remove the arts from the general fund and find a source of revenue that would not be in competition with the city’s other subsidized institutions, like the police and fire departments. It was recently reported that the arts funding would be restored to $1.1 million in this next budget cycle as the task force recommended pulling approximately 40 percent from the general fund and the rest from oil and gas reserves.
A 2010 economic impact study conducted by Americans for the Arts showed that arts organizations in Fort Worth generated $84 million the previous year – a handsome return on a $1.1 million investment and far exceeding Landesman’s $26 to $1 assessment. The restoration of the $1.1 million budget represents an awareness by city officials of the importance and need for a dynamic and robust arts community in Fort Worth. This public funding, given to area arts organizations through grants from the Arts Council of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, will have a significant impact on the city’s arts organizations over the next 12 months. Looking back, the Arts Council’s $1.06 million 2012 budget allowed it to fund grants resulting in 2,882 performances and exhibitions with 1.88 million attendees that generated $43,634,563 in spending on goods and services in the community. The restoration of this year’s budget means that local arts organizations that were denied grants or received less funding than required can breathe easier, and programs that were either suspended or cut entirely can find new life.
Some people will argue that in a time of economic uncertainty, the government doesn’t need to fund the arts – that if people want the arts they will pay for them. Certainly, individual donations constitute a large portion of any arts organization’s operating budget, however the generosity of individual donors and private foundations is simply not enough to sustain these entities. That’s why public funding is so important. It shows the world that we are a vital, important part of what happens artistically both at home and across the nation. Also, government funding gives us a financial base, albeit at this point a small one, on which to plan. When nearly every source of funding for arts organizations is in constant peril of disappearing, grants from the local, state and national levels are not a luxury; they are a necessary foundation for sound planning. We must have a pool of funds on which we can rely when a long-term donor passes or a family or corporation leaves the area. In our world, we know how to live lean, and we know how to produce great art. What we need is civic support that doesn’t just say we are an integral part of our great city’s fabric, but backs up that sentiment with guaranteed financial support.
Darren K. Woods is general director of the Fort Worth Opera.