Governor Nikki Haley recently announced additional austerity measures for her state, including cutting $1.9 million in funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission and $500,000 in funding earmarked for grants. Haley called the agency redundant, and said it can receive private funds and apply for funding through grants.
Several lawmakers have vowed to override Haley’s budget vetoes next week. Senator Joel Lourie, D-Richland County said he thinks the legislature will likely see “strong override votes that way surpass” the necessary two-thirds approval.
In response to the proposed cuts, South Carolina art groups plan to hold an “Occupy the Arts” protest next week at the Statehouse, and a Twitter hashtag (#SaveSCArts) is accompanying tweets in support of arts funding.
A core disagreement between the governor and activists is the role of art in society. Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey defended the cuts, saying the Arts Commission was not a core function of the government.
“While the governor loves the arts, she does not believe the Arts Commission, which uses significant taxpayer dollars to fund administrative costs, is a core function of government—and she has been clear about this since her first State of the State address,” Godfrey said. “The arts and Arts Commission are not the same thing, and those who represent that they are, are doing the taxpayers of South Carolina a real disservice.”
Activists, and their Democratic supporters, disagree, noting that a feature of strong societies is a thriving arts community:
Rep. James Smith, D-Richland County, said: “When you see a thriving community, with jobs and economic opportunity, you’ll see a thriving arts community there as well because they go hand-in-hand. For every dollar we invest [in the arts], 50 dollars is generated in economic activity.”
He added: “78,000 jobs are related to the arts in this state so why is this governor insisting on killing jobs in South Carolina? This is backwards thinking, it’s the kind of thinking that has held South Carolina back in the past. It must change—it will not stand.”
South Carolina is not alone in this struggle. In the age of austerity, arts and arts programs are usually one of the first sacrificial lambs offered up to the budget cutters. In the Guardian, Melissa Denes explored what the arts can offer during times of economic strife and made the case for why the Guardian should continue to cover the arts.
Denes writes that, in addition to offering universal diversion and a solace to suffering citizens, culture gives us community, much like organized sports.
Perhaps most importantly, artists are often society’s greatest dissidents.
Poems on the Underground’s Judith Chernaik says she doesn’t care for the word “austerity,” as she believes there’s still plenty of money floating around London.
Artists, she argued, were part of a great tradition of outrage and protest. Even Shakespeare and Chaucer, while not oppositional artists, gave us a sense of the moral base of life: reading them was an enlargement of experience. Art, she said, would continue to exist without government or local authority support—but it was tremendously important they give that support even so, as a means of placing value on culture. She pointed out that artists had, and did, face worse than austerity: elsewhere in the world artists risk their lives simply by telling the truth. They have survived censorship, war, the Great Depression.
But on a practical level, a state arts commission needs the support of the state, or it cannot exist.
Commission executive director Ken May says the $2 million of state money in last year’s budget more than paid for itself.
“Just in matching funds for grants, we realized about $80 million in local matching funds,” he said to a CBS affiliate. “Which means our return on investment was about 40 to one, which is not bad.”
In addition to eliminating funding for the arts commission, Haley axed the Sea Grant Consortium, which helps the state’s research universities pursue federal funding to research issues relating to the South Carolina coastline, a particularly essential function given lawmakers like Lindsey Graham have been pushing the state to open its waters to offshore drilling.
“Offshore drilling is where we need to be,” said Haley to Businessweek.
Just don’t research the effects of that drilling, please.