On the Funding Front

Perry to Texas arts: Drop dead!

Here we go again. Money gets tight on the government side, and the call goes out: Cut public funding for the arts! Seriously? That card was tired three recessions back. However, that didn't stop Gov. Rick Perry from playing it like a trump in last week's State of the State address. Here's Texas facing a $27 billion shortfall over the next budget cycle, and of all the agencies in the state, he singles out the meagerly funded Texas Commission on the Arts as one of two – the Texas Historical Commission being the other – that ought to be suspended "until the economy improves."

What the guv conveniently avoided mentioning was what this suspension of the TCA would save our state: a whopping $5.1 million over the next biennium. Yes, that's million, not billion – which doesn't even qualify as pocket change in this fiscal crisis; it's less than one-fiftieth of a penny on the dollar. As it isn't a meaningful cut in any way, Perry's name-check of TCA serves as just a lazy shout-out to the culture wars, with the guv ginning up his "fed up" base like the aging frontman for a hair band pulling out that hit from the Eighties in a flagrant attempt to get his graying fans pumped up like the old days.

Now, Perry's rationale is that TCA is a "non-mission-critical" entity in the current economic climate. Which is curious considering that in the same speech, Perry insisted that "when it comes to our vision for this state, our work will not be done until every Texan who wants a job has a job." News flash, governor: The arts and other creative industries provide real jobs for Texans – almost 700,000 as of 2009 – and they've been adding jobs at a rate of more than 20% for seven years now; in five years, one of every 12 Texas jobs will be in the creative sector. Moreover, they annually generate some $4.5 billion – yes, this time I mean billion – in economic activity for the state. This is all stuff you might know if you'd paid attention to any of several economic impact studies generated in recent years: by economist Ray Perryman in 2001 and by the firm Texas Perspectives in 2008 and 2010. They've consistently shown how big a part of Texas' economy the creative industries are and how vital they are to not only the state's major urban centers but also its midsize cities and small towns. Since you expressed concern about stifling entrepreneurship, you should be aware that cutting off state grants to its entrepreneurial creators is a sure way to do that.

No one's suggesting that TCA be spared all cuts. But given the modest amount of funding it receives and the substantial economic return its grants deliver, it deserves better than a dismissive label and banishment to the void. That's just tossing out the baby with the bathwater.

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Texas Commission on the Arts, public arts funding, Rick Perry

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