State Budget Keeps Arts/Cultural Groups Mostly Status Quo

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If the arts-and-culture community was hoping for a financial boost under the Lamont administration, their hopes were dashed at the end of the most recent legislative session.

That’s because the industry received “flat funding,” says Elizabeth Shapiro, the new director of arts, preservation and museums at the Connecticut Office of the Arts and State Historic Preservation Office.

For the next two fiscal years, the state budget allocated about $7.7 million annually for the arts-and-culture industry broken up into several spending categories. The majority of that money — $6.2 million — is allocated to specific arts groups while the remaining funds — about $1.5 million — will be up for grabs as part of a state-run competitive grants process.

All of that money doesn’t include the $4.3 million allocated annually for statewide marketing.

While it may not be a bump from previous years, even flat-funding can be seen as a victory, given the multibillion-dollar deficit lawmakers had to tackle.

It wasn’t long ago when former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2012 proposed eliminating all — or $11 million — in state arts funding in the face of a large deficit, only to reverse course amid major pushback from the industry.

However, Connecticut is falling behind other states.

Nationwide, state funding for the arts is on the rise, said Kelly J. Barsdate, chief program and planning officer of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

Thirty-nine states increased funding for the arts in fiscal 2020 and total funding by states for the industry has reached a new high of $457 million nationwide, Barsdate said.

Conversely, appropriations for the arts in Connecticut have declined by 17 percent since fiscal 2010; nationally funding is up 56 percent during that time period.

Funding pools

In each of the next two fiscal years, the state arts commission will receive level funding of $1.5 million, which it will give out in grants to arts-and-cultural groups that apply and get approved for funding.

For a state with hundreds of arts-and-cultural groups that serve dozens of communities — as well as national and worldwide audiences — that figure might seem shockingly low.

It is, but it’s not the whole picture.

Shapiro’s office also gets $787,662 in interest payments from the state arts endowment, which was created by lawmakers decades earlier and has grown to more than $15 million. Her office also gets $737,400 from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Those three pools of money total just over $3 million and are available to arts-and-cultural organizations for operating funds and special programs or initiatives that Shapiro’s office creates.

Meantime, the biggest pot of state budget funding comes from line items bestowed to specific arts organizations, including many groups located in the districts of those holding the purse strings.

Those funds, too, have been level funded in the most recent budget.

There are about 44 arts groups — both large and small, well-known and lesser-known — that get a piece of the action.