In the midst of declining funding, it’s tempting to see almost any state legislative attention to the Georgia Council for the Arts as a good thing.
The agency, which awards grants for arts initiatives throughout the state, has seen its budget slashed as a result of the ongoing economic downturn, which has cut state revenues significantly. For the current fiscal year, the council is operating on state funding of $790,735, and Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1 proposes cutting almost $250,000 of that allocation, giving the council $566,730 for arts programming.
Current allocations to the council are a long distance from the 2002 peak in state funding, when the agency received $4.5 million in taxpayer dollars.
Clearly, then, the council is more than ready for some good news, and it may have gotten just that in House Bill 264.
The bill, which won easy passage in the House on Thursday with a 155-3 vote, would move oversight of the council from the Office of Planning and Budget to the Department of Economic Development.
Certainly, the wide margin of the bill’s passage would indicate that legislators saw little or nothing controversial about it. And it does have all the apparent excitement of a “housecleaning” measure – legislation that simply takes care of a minor administrative issue.
There are, however, a couple of different ways of seeing House Bill 264 – which still must get a Senate vote – as an indicator of how legislators view the place of the arts in the state.
On one hand, putting the Georgia Council for the Arts under the purview of the Department of Economic Development can be seen as a positive move.
It’s certainly possible to see the reorganization as a recognition by the state’s leadership that the arts are an important component of economic development. It’s possible the reorganization is a nod to the view that quality-of-life issues, such as the availability of cultural amenities, are important to businesses and industries looking to relocate to Georgia.
Insofar as industrial and business prospects looking at Georgia as a possible locale for relocation or expansion are lured by the state’s acknowledgment of the importance of the arts, putting the council under the wing of the state’s economic development arm could very well pay dividends as Georgia works to move out from under current economic challenges.
However, it’s also worth considering whether placing the Georgia Council for the Arts under the Department of Economic Development might have some adverse consequences. Because economic development is such a serious endeavor, it’s worth wondering whether an arts council operating as a part of an economic development team would be willing to fund concerts, exhibits or other events that push the boundaries of the arts.
In essence, the arts should, to some extent, be involved with pushing boundaries, prompting people to think about themselves and the world around them in different ways. To the extent of worrying about whether a given exhibit or event might sour the state’s chances to land an industry influences decisions on arts council expenditures, Georgians might not get the quality of exhibits and performances they might otherwise see.
Whatever happens with this bill in the Senate – and, ultimately, on the governor’s desk – it should be recognized as something more than a mere reconfiguring of the state’s organizational chart.