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Arts and History: The Way the Culture Crumbles

Cuts run deep for arts, historic preservation, and libraries

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 4, 2011

The Texas Historical Commission saves unique pieces of Texas history – like this 1954 mural by Texan modernist artist Seymour Fogel, in the vacated Starr Building at Sixth and Colorado – from the wrecking ball.
The Texas Historical Commission saves unique pieces of Texas history – like this 1954 mural by Texan modernist artist Seymour Fogel, in the vacated Starr Building at Sixth and Colorado – from the wrecking ball.
Photo courtesy of Texas Commission on the Arts

From the ongoing war against the National Endowment for the Arts to the new push to defund NPR and PBS, conservatives keep fighting to cut culture out of government. So there was little shock when Gov. Rick Perry proposed suspending all funding for the Texas Historical Commission and the Commission on the Arts for the next two years. By comparison, the House and Senate budget proposals for the two agencies seem positively profligate – but they still represent damaging cuts.

The proposals recommend that the Historical Commission lose 77% of its budget, leaving it with only $24 million, while the Commission on the Arts would lose 52%, cutting its budget to $7.5 million. Similarly, the Library and Archives Commission budget would fall by 38% to $48.4 million. On Feb. 24, Arts Commission Executive Director Gary Gibbs thanked the House Appropriations Committee for even these tiny crumbs. Making the economic argument that a cultured state is an educated state, he told lawmakers, "It signals to me that you recognize the importance that the arts play in Texas." However, with this current budget, Gibbs stands to lose a third of his already small staff. He also warned lawmakers that while the number of grants the commission gives out should stay the same, the size of those grants will inevitably slip. While that situation would be bad for theatrical, dance, and opera companies, it could be catastrophic for schools that use those grants to bring artists and authors into the classroom.

The Arts Commission wouldn't be alone in such tough decisions. The Library and Archives Commission may have to terminate its Loan Star Libraries and TexShare programs, which provide books for public libraries and school libraries (see "Library Cuts Run Deeper Than They Appear," Feb. 11). Meanwhile, the Historical Commission may have to leave Texas' heritage to crumble. The proposed budget would allow it to complete current projects like the renovation of county courthouses and the preservation of the wreck of the 17th century ship La Belle. But no new sites or structures, no matter how endangered they are, would be added to the list.

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