Yesterday was a bad news day for the arts in South Carolina when governor Niki Haley used her line item veto to cut the state’s art commission. But, by the end of today, arts advocates and the democratic process won out when the SC house overrode the veto by a resounding 105 to 8 vote. The state senate followed suit with an override vote of 32-6. So that’s the good news.
The more good news is from a story in the Phoenix Business Journal reporting that the Flinn Foundation was restoring its arts funding program in Arizona. This is a great gift to the state.
Then what’s the bad news? The Flinn Foundation’s program will fund only organizations with budgets greater than $2.5 million or, in order to allow Alliance for Audience to qualify for funding, have audience development as its stated mission. I don’t want to look this gift-horse in the mouth and think that the Flinn program is commendable in many ways. It is symptomatic, however, of a larger problem in the arts funding community, a community that favors the status quo over innovation and the creation of new work. The twenty organizations being invited by Flinn to participate in its new program are the state’s “big boys:” the Arizona Ballet, Scottsdale Cultural Council, Phoenix Art Museum, Tuscon Symphony . . . you get the idea. Smaller companies are not eligible at all and individual artists – except insofar as they may be supported by one of the eligible companies – are out in the cold. Requirements for public funding – especially at the federal level – likewise favor the status quo over the innovative, most obviously through the requirements for an organization having been in existence for three fiscal years prior to an award and significant limitations on individual artist funding.
Such criteria built into the arts funding infrastructure create an environment that, if not outright hostile to new work and new forms, is nonetheless not supportive of such work either. That’s the bad news.