State dips into cultural trust fund

Sunday, January 11, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- One less local theater production in Clarksville. Fewer outside musical performances in Mexico. A ballet company with 25 dancers rather than 27 in Kansas City.

Missouri appropriated about $3.9 million last fiscal year for arts agencies in the state. This year, the general revenue appropriation was zero. The government dipped into a cultural trust fund to pick up much of the slack. Still, many arts organizations are cutting back and wondering what the future holds.

After all, the roughly $26 million Missouri Cultural Trust was never intended to pay for day-to-day programming. It was established to help leverage private money, create endowments and improve stability for arts organizations. The fund includes about $17 million in investments that can't be touched until 2008, said Norree Boyd, Missouri Arts Council executive director.

"We would really like to be in the budget at some level this year," she said. "If we're not in the general revenue this year, it's going to be extremely hard to get back into it.

"If we keep operating out of the cultural trust, we really only have two and a half years of operation," she said.

The trust also was set up to receive part of the income tax collected from nonresident professional athletes and entertainers. That plan brought national acclaim in 1997, when U.S. News & World Report wrote, "Who can argue with it? Use the tax on Snoop Doggy Dogg and Stallone to fund children's theatre and Beethoven's 9th."

But over the past two years, those taxes have been appropriated elsewhere, and not to the cultural trust, Boyd said.

Because of the squeeze, the Missouri Arts Council issued about $2 million in grants this fiscal year rather than $3 million last fiscal year. That hit particularly hard in rural areas that may lack benefactors who can make large contributions.

Officials from several arts organizations will speak to legislators Feb. 11 during the annual Missouri Citizens for the Arts Day in Jefferson City.

Not used daily

Even a reduction of a few thousand dollars can make a difference in what communities can schedule on a Friday night or what they can offer schoolchildren in arts programming.

"I think when money gets tight, you'll almost always see the arts suffer" because they're not used every day like roads, said Chad Shoemaker, director of parks and recreation in Mexico, about 40 miles northeast of Columbia.

Mexico plans to use more local talent in its music shows, after funds that allowed the community to bring in outside groups were cut by about $3,000. Shoemaker said a strong community theater -- one that doesn't rely on MAC funding -- also will continue to provide entertainment and cultural opportunities.

"We think that's an important part of building community," he said.

Several Missouri arts officials said they understood they needed to make sacrifices when so many other programs took hits in a difficult fiscal year. But they remain concerned about what the future holds.

In Cape Girardeau, the Southeast Missouri Council on the Arts continues to operate its three galleries, run art exhibits and festivals and sponsor trips to St. Louis and Memphis, director Rebecca Fulgham said. The group is reaching out to re-establish relationships with businesses.

So far, the organization has not eliminated events or programs.

"We have not yet, but that 'Yet' has a big capital letter," Fulgham said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: