Copious Notes

Arts community worried Kentucky Arts Council on budget chopping block

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin smiles as he is introduced at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce dinner, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016 at Heritage Hall in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin smiles as he is introduced at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce dinner, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016 at Heritage Hall in Lexington, Ky. Associated Press

A rumor has been circulating through the Kentucky arts community that newly-elected Gov. Matt Bevin will eliminate the Kentucky Arts Council from his budget, when it is released Tuesday.

This, of course, would be a major arts story in the Commonwealth as the Arts Council has broad influence in funding, advocacy, development and presenting events such as the annual Kentucky Crafted Market and the Governor’s Awards in the Arts. So, of course, we have been looking into it, as have a number of other media outlets in Kentucky.

We don’t have a lot to tell you.

Both Herald-Leader capitol reporter John Cheves and I have talked to state officials, Arts Council board members and staff, and area arts administrators. To this point, we have not been able to establish this as anything more than a rumor. An email from Arts Council board member Wilma Brown is being cited by many as the primary source of the rumor. When contacted by John Thursday, she said all she had heard were rumors, and she declined to speak further.

The Governor’s office has said it will not discuss details of the budget until Tuesday.

LexArts President and CEO Ellen A. “Nan” Plummer considered the threat credible enough that she called an emergency “State of the Arts” meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at ArtsPlace, 161 N. Mill St., to organize a campaign to save the the state arts agency.

“I would love to be able to stand up at that meeting and say I overreacted,” Plummer said Friday night.

Part of what makes the rumor feel credible to Plummer is a similar experience in Michigan in 1991,when newly elected Gov. John Engler eliminated funding for the state arts council upon taking office. More recently, governors in Kansas and South Carolina have taken aim at state arts agencies in budget cutting.

State Sen. Tom Buford (R-Nicholasville) did tell John that he is confident that if the Council was eliminated in the Governor’s budget, it would be reinstated in the House version of the budget and that the State Senate would support that. He added that he has no information about Arts Council cuts in the budget.

Arts Council board member Todd Lowe said, in an email, “There are examples of states attempting to cut agencies completely, most notably Kansas and South Carolina, that have met with significant national pushback from arts advocates, including regional arts organizations and the National Assembly of States Arts Agencies, who recognize the important value of the National Endowment for the Arts matching funding.” Lowe is on the board of the Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

Formed in 1966 as the Kentucky Arts Commission, the Arts Council is an official partner agency with the National Endowment for the Arts, meaning it receives and distributes NEA funds. Such an agency is essential for a state to receive NEA funding. According to its website, the Kentucky Arts Council awards more than 500 matching grants annually totaling $3.3 million.

In this Fiscal Year, 2016, the state General Fund will provide $2.79 million for the Ky Arts Council. The group also will get $759,800 in federal funds and $262,500 in funds from other sources.

Plummer says that even if the rumors don’t turn out to be true and the Arts Council retains funding in Bevin’s budget, it is important to reinvigorate advocacy for arts funding.

“Like many states, we have struggled to get advocacy efforts off the ground,” Plummer says. “This is a harsh reminder that the future becomes today. And even if it is not today, it’s great to take the time to remind everyone why this is important.”

We will keep our ears to the ground for whatever may develop between now and Tuesday evening, and when the budget is released, we will let you know where the Arts Council stands.

Herald-Leader staff writer John Cheves contributed to this post.

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