If 83% of Arizona legislators agree on something important, we all should take notice.
That happened this spring when the Arizona legislature reaffirmed the state’s commitment to arts and culture by reauthorizing the Arizona Commission on the Arts for another eight years. Thank you to those legislators for voting for the bill and Gov. Doug Ducey for signing it into law.
With reauthorization in hand, legislators and the Governor now must turn to fulfilling the purpose of the Arts Commission, which is investing in the vitality and future of arts and culture through public/private partnerships in communities across Arizona. A modest investment of $5 million in ongoing state appropriations in FY2023 will make a huge difference to the artists and arts leaders who are delivering impact throughout the state.
It’s important to note that the lion’s share of dollars invested in arts and culture organizations and programs in Arizona come from private dollars: tickets sales from individuals, major gifts from wealthy donors and sponsorships from businesses. By investing in these programs, we all demonstrate our commitment to the quality of life generated by arts and culture; the economic returns created through direct employment and purchasing as well as a multiplier effect in the economy; and the healing and inspiring experiences for populations of all ages and experiences, from young students to veterans to seniors.
But as the pandemic demonstrated, public investments are also a critical component in this tapestry of financial support. State and local public dollars for arts and culture recognize the public value of a thriving arts and culture community. State and local public funds are also superb resources to leverage other individual and private investments. And public resources can ensure that all people can have access to the incredible experiences of arts and culture.
For that reason, Arizona created a state agency – the Arts Commission – to ensure public access and commitment to this part of our community. But it would be tragic if, on the heels of reaffirming the importance of this agency, the state did not put funds into the state budget to support that state agency.
In a budget spending $12 billion, the inclusion of $5 million for the Arts Commission is a pretty modest investment yet would return the Commission to an ongoing source of funding for the first time since 2011. Furthermore, this $5 million is critical in a year when arts and culture leaders are still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, but without the benefit of federal emergency funds, as they did in 2020 and 2021.
Without a $5 million appropriation, arts and culture organizations could be looking at a reduction in funds available from the Arts Commission.
With this $5 million commitment, the state can ensure that arts education programs produce educational enrichment and reinforcement proven to benefit youth.
With this $5 million commitment, the state can grow its investment in programs for veterans who enroll in arts experiences that help them heal from the trauma and injuries many suffered during their service.
With this $5 million commitment, the state can help scale programs that involve seniors in arts and culture programs which are demonstrated to slow cognitive decline and foster engagement in their community.
In short, every Arizonan learned during these past two years that a life without arts and culture experiences in their community is a life diminished in its quality. As we return to life in our communities, arts and culture stand ready to welcome us. And this can only happen if we have rekindled our investments in these experiences.
We know that the recognition of this value is the reason the Legislature and Governor just reauthorized the Commission on the Arts. And we are just as certain that they will recognize the tremendous return on this investment when they approve a $5 million ongoing appropriation in the budget being adopted soon.
Patrick McWhortor is CEO of Arizona Citizens for the Arts, a statewide grassroots organization advancing arts and culture.