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Trust fund dollars for the arts

What is it that makes the arts such an easy target when it comes to cutting budgets and programs that support them?
School arts programs are nearly always the first to go when budgets need to be trimmed, despite extensive research underscoring the value of the arts in helping children learn, comprehend and think creatively.
Community arts programs — from symphony orchestras to craft clubs — face regular ongoing financial challenges that significantly intensify when much-needed funding sources fall victim to budget cuts like those proposed in Senate Bill 1330 now under debate in the Arizona Legislature.
The bill proposes to eliminate the 20-year-old Arts Trust Fund and permanently reduce the Arizona Commission on the Arts (ACA) grant budget by 40 percent, or $1.6 million a year. This would be on top of the 10 percent the commission already has cut from its budget for fiscal year 2009. 
S1330 proposes to move $15 from every Arizona Corporation Commission annual filing now used for grants into a fund to fill open mine shafts around the state. While we fully support the effort to address this important safety issue, $1.6 million will barely scratch the surface if estimates of 100,000 abandoned mines are even remotely accurate, but the financial impact on thousands of Arizona families will be, in a word, dramatic.
Interestingly, a bill before the U.S. Senate would require, for the first time, mine operators on federal lands to pay a royalty for extracted minerals. The money would be used to secure abandoned mines and pay for what the Associated Press calls “an estimated $70 billion cleanup of the wreckage left by more than a century and a half of hard-rock mining.”
Looking at S1330 from a strictly business perspective, we have to ask if it makes any sense at all to divert such a small amount of money that produces such an enormous return on investment for Arizona citizens and taxpayers.
• Fully 85 percent of all Arts Commission projects were focused on young people.
• Because every ACA grant must be matched by private and corporate donations, the value of the grants are actually doubled and generate broad-based involvement by the communities the organizations serve.
• Nearly 15,000 jobs in Phoenix, Mesa and Pima County are directly related to the arts.
• Direct and indirect spending relating to arts and culture generated nearly $500 million in economic activity in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Chandler in 2005 alone, according to a study by Americans for the Arts.
In the big picture, $1.6 million may not seem like much against a $1.4 billion deficit, but what may be a drop in the bucket for Arizona is a critical flow of support for arts organizations statewide.
Brenda Sperduti is executive director of Arizona Citizens for the Arts and Arizona Action for the Arts.

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