Missouri Arts Council hopes for more funding in new budget

Friday, February 24, 2006
Beverly Strohmeyer, executive director for the Missouri Arts Council

When Beverly Strohmeyer took the reins as the executive director of the Missouri Arts Council in January, she jumped headlong into a battle to keep and increase the council's state funding.

Now with the Missouri legislative session in full swing, Strohmeyer has spent much of her time in the last several weeks at the state capitol, trying to convince lawmakers to take Gov. Matt Blunt's recommendation and increase funding for the council -- the state's economic development organization for the arts.

"We have cut our program budgets more than 50 percent, we've cut our staff, we've cut every other expense we can even think about trying to cut," said Strohmeyer, a 17-year director of the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri.

The current state of Missouri's funding for the arts -- which is distributed through the arts council -- has been several years in the making. In 1999, the council received $5.6 million from the state's general revenue and $4.3 million from a state tax on out-of-state athletes and entertainers.

By fiscal year 2006, the funding was down $500,000 from general revenue and $600,000 for the tax. That's a meager budget at about one-tenth the amount the council used to receive.

But times have been leaner -- in fiscal years 2004 and 2005 the Council was zero-funded by the state. The result is that even now the organization is running on the fumes of leftover money from the entertainment tax.

"We feel like we've already hit bottom and we've been in survival mode for a while," said Strohmeyer. "Now we feel like it's improving -- the economy is improving, the governor is recommending an increase, and we hope to see that increase happen."

In his 2007 fiscal year budget Blunt has turned out to be one of the arts council's best friends in Jefferson City. The governor has recommended a massive increase over current funding levels. He wants to keep the general revenue funding flat, but increase the amount the organization receives from the tax to $2.7 million.

But the recommendation isn't the final product. For the current fiscal year the governor had recommended $3.6 million from the tax. That number was pared down by $3 million before the legislature passed its final budget.

Whether or not the General Assembly will be more generous this year is far from determined, said Strohmeyer. The Missouri Arts Council budget is part of the budget for the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

"So far they haven't cut anything from our budget, but the process is still ongoing," she said.

However another piece of legislation is on the table to take all money from the athletes and entertainers tax and sweep it into the general revenue. If that bill passes, the Arts Council would lose another important chunk of funding.

The effects of small budgets for the state organization trickle down to local organizations like the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, said Dr. Robert Gifford.

Gifford has intimate experience as a former board member with the local arts council and an advocate for state arts funding.

In the past few years Gifford said local funding from the Missouri Arts Council has been slashed in half, making the burden fall harder on local shoulders to provide arts programming like the ArtsCape festival.

"I can tell you it just doesn't go very far," said Gifford.

This year the local arts council received about $15,436 from the state arts council -- a mere fraction of the total operating cost, said Dr. Dennis Seyer, treasurer of the local arts council.

Some of that money helps fund local events like the ArtsCape festival.

Strohmeyer said funding the arts may seem unnecessary to some, but carries great importance in terms of both economic development and improving life for Missouri residents.

"The arts are for everybody," she said. "It's not just for those who can afford to pay for tickets to the symphony or the opera or ballet or whatever. We fund a lot of activities to rural communities in the state, and we want the arts to be accessible for everyone."

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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