South Carolinians Ready to Rally as State Shuts Down Arts Commission

by John Gawarecki-Maxwell on July 16, 2012 Newswire

Democratic State Senators and Representatives holding a press conference outside the South Carolina Arts Commission last Monday. Photo from the Palmetto Public Record.

Just in case New York City’s recent restoration of arts funding had you feeling somewhat optimistic about the state of the arts in America, here comes South Carolina to remind us all that no, the government still doesn’t get it. South Carolina’s artists and activists will descend on the state capitol in Columbia tonight to protest Governor Nikki Haley’s veto of $3.9 million in funding towards the South Carolina Arts Commission, a move that has already shuttered the organization and eliminated all public funding for the arts.

For the second year in a row, Governor Haley has attempted to cut from the state’s $23 billion budget by closing the South Carolina Arts Commission, a group she has argued to be redundant and outside the core functions of government. “I would rather give this money to taxpayers and let them decide which charities they are going to give money to than allow the Legislature to decide which arts, which programs, which charities to give it to. It’s the responsible thing to do,” Haley stated in a press conference held on July 6, failing to understand that the South Carolina Arts Commission also manages the state’s collection of over 500 pieces and runs the Arts in Basic Curriculum partnership, which provides school districts with grants and teacher training for arts programs. The program—which has defined South Carolina’s standards for a proper arts education—will be shut down if the veto stands.

Haley claims shutting the $3.9 million program—which was to receive $2.4 million from the state and $1.5 million from the federal government—will save South Carolina taxpayers an unnecessary expenditure, but the savings are misleading. Speaking to a local CBS affiliate, Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May argued: “Just in matching funds for grants, we realized about $80 million in local matching funds [from a $2 million investment by South Carolina in 2011], which means our return on investment was about forty-to-one.” During a press conference last Monday, State Representative James Smith posited the question more directly: “$9.2 billion dollars, 78,000 jobs are related to the arts activity in South Carolina. So why is this governor insisting on killing jobs in South Carolina?”

Last year, the state legislature spared the Arts Commission by overturning Haley’s veto, but this year presents an added issue: the organization has been closed since last Monday. Haley and the state legislature agreed to pass the budget after the state’s fiscal year began on July 1; the veto has forced the Arts Commission to lay off its twenty employees until a legislative decision can be made on the budget, at which point the agency will either remain closed or reopen should funding be restored.

South Carolina’s House of Representatives and Senate will convene in emergency sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively to vote to overturn this and the other eighty items Haley vetoed from the state budget, which include several one-time grants for the state’s museums and historical societies. If you live in South Carolina, know anyone in its arts community, or just generally like to see the arts supported, now would be a good time to make your voice heard.

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