Hobbies, networking... the Senate looks at the proposal for the next two-year state budget, which will begin July 1, it will find funding for the arts has been greatly depleted. The final vote for the House Finance Committee went a step further than the proposal from Division I, which all but eliminated the State Art Council, and voted to dismantle the Department of Cultural Resources.
On Tuesday, March 22, the House Finance Committee passed a late-in-the-day amendment that eliminated the Cultural Resources Department and allocated its different offices to other state departments. The current budgets for libraries and for historical resources would move to the Department of State, the Film Office would move to the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) and the Commissioner’s office would be defunded. The fiscal returns for this decision would not be immediately felt, as Department of Cultural Resources Commissioner Van McLeod, who has held the position since 1992, is under contract through 2013 and will continue to be paid.
The State Arts Council, which for budgetary purposes is referred to as the Division of the Arts, would be all but eliminated (there is a $10,000 place-holder for the Division of the Arts, which would make it easier for it to be reinstated in the future). This would cut roughly $415,000 from the budget each year, as Governor John Lynch proposed $427,500 per year in state funds for the Arts Council, which was a reduction of roughly seven percent from the previous year. Such an elimination would make New Hampshire the only state in the country without a centralized arts council, according to Marilyn Hoffman, president of the New Hampshire Citizens for the Arts, an arts advocacy group.
In a statement about the Finance Committee’s decision, the New Hampshire Citizens for the Arts wrote that without a state organization, New Hampshire would no longer be entitled to a 1:1 federal match for certain arts program grants.
While the Film Office would re-locate to the DRED office, that department also felt cuts. The committee voted to zero out the department’s $500,000 budget for marketing and advertising dollars to promote international tourism in the state for FY 2012. The committee also cut $125,000 from the funds for national tourism promotions.
With an estimated state deficit as high as $900 million, the arts were not alone in feeling difficult cuts. The House’s budget would cut $115 million in aid to hospitals and $80 million to the University System. But arts supporters argue that the arts and the creative economy are not a fiscal problem but a solution. McLeod, who otherwise declined to comment for this story, did say the arts are an economic engine for the state.
The New Hampshire Citizens for the Arts estimated that every dollar spent on promotion for the state brings in a return of $7. The House’s failure to acknowledge the idea that to make money sometimes you have to spend money is short-sighted, Hoffmann argued.
A rally against much of the budget cuts was held outside the state capitol on Thursday, March 31. Hoffman said there were a lot of people who turned out to support the arts. These supporters handed out stickers that read, “The Arts Matter.” Hoffman said people willingly took the stickers and many of these people were sympathetic and said they had children who were artists or even taught art.
The Senate Finance committee is now listening to presentations by different department heads. The Cultural Resources Department’s hearing is scheduled for Friday, April 15.