State spares funding for arts

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Artists and the organizations that promote and educate them breathed easier Monday after learning that the Virginia Commission for the Arts had not been erased entirely from the state budget.

The House of Delegates originally proposed eliminating funding for the commission, which provides grants to arts organizations throughout the state, but legislators agreed on March 14 to a budget that cuts those grants by 16 percent.

About 300 arts advocates, including a group from the Twin Counties, flocked to the General Assembly last month to plead for the arts commission.

Penny Moseley, developmental director of Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, said those involved in arts organizations are relieved that legislators have decided to make similar cuts across the board rather than completely remove the commission.

“We're very appreciative of our representatives and appreciate that they didn't eliminate this,” said Moseley.

This is the first year CCSA, which recently opened in downtown Galax, will receive funds from the state commission.

CCSA applied for $22,000 in operating funds, as well as some smaller grants, but Moseley said arts organizations will not know how much of a cut they will be taking until this summer.

After rallying in Richmond to oppose elimination of the VCA, Moseley told The Gazette that she was concerned that removal of the commission would slow the growth of the new art school.

Now, Moseley can breathe a sigh of relief.

“We have a community of concerned citizens that understand the importance of Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, and we have funding from local supporters. And even though the cuts may still have an impact, it won't stop us by any means,” said Moseley.

Ellen Holland, director of the Arts Council of the Twin Counties, said she was delighted to hear the news.

Funds from the commission make up 27 percent of the art council's budget. It receives three grants from the commission each year, including $3,000 for general operating funds and $7,000 in a local government matching grant, and another that pays for 50 percent of the fees to hire traveling artists —such as Barter Theatre performers, musical acts and storytellers — to perform at local schools and venues.  The arts council hosts one to two art events per month.

“I'm glad that the state commission will survive for the next few more years,” said Holland. “This means the arts council can continue on with programs for the fall and spring.”

The arts council this year will sponsor storytellers and performers in local schools, the annual quilt show at Matthews Farm Museum and “Jazz on the Mountain” in Fancy Gap.

Also funded through VCA is the 'Round the Mountain artisan trail. Executive Director Diana Blackburn said the organization received more than $10,000 for general operation from VCA, which makes up 6 percent of its budget.

“The arts community really rallied behind this, and it shows how important it is to speak with your legislators,” said Blackburn.

The arts commission's overall grants budget of $4 million will drop by $670,000 to about $3.3 million for each of the next two years, said Peggy Baggett, executive director of the arts commission.

In addition, the commission receives $432,000 from the state for administrative expenses, which will remain the same.

That 16 percent cut in grant funds comes on top of 30 percent in cuts since 2008. To accommodate those trims, the commission eliminated or reduced various grants, Baggett said.

The additional cuts will mostly affect general operating grants, which make up 67 percent of the agency's grant funds, Baggett said.

Del. Chris Jones, a member of the budget conference committee, said Monday that, during budget negotiations, "we picked up some additional revenue and that was what allowed us to restore the funding for the arts."

"There's no doubt that the contribution that is made by the arts is significant," said Jones, who acknowledged that the large number of arts advocates [protesting the proposed cuts to the arts commission] helped make legislators "very aware of the impact that the supporters felt our actions would have on the arts."