Saturday, June 9, 2007

Great Arts State?

Yesterday, Governor Granholm released some arts funding that had been frozen since the shameful budget standoff in March. $3.6 million will be released. Sounds good and arts organizations are certainly grateful. But another $3.6 million will be cut from the $9.4 million fund for the arts. Arts groups are looking at a cut of about "36% overall."

The Free Press reports that,"State arts funding in Michigan has now fallen 73% from its peak of $24 million in 2000." It goes on to report," Since 2001, Michigan's national rank in per capita arts funding has dropped from 4th to 35th." 35th in per capita arts funding and this when our population is declining? Pretty damning.

How can this be happening? Michigan is home to: Interlochen Center for the Arts, founded in 1928 and the 2006 National Medal of Arts recipient; University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance; Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, training youth for more than 40 years; the Detroit Institute of Arts (fifth largest fine arts museum in the U.S.); Ann Arbor Pioneer High School Music Department--the National Grammy Signature School for 2005-2006 and one of the top 7 in the country the previous two years; the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; the Ann Arbor Film Festival, oldest festival in North America that showcases independent and experimental film; MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit); Cranbrook, founded in 1904 and renowned for arts education; and the Sphinx Organization, bringing cultural diversity to classical music. And so many more extraordinary arts organizations.

Can the Great Lakes State become the Great Arts State? Not at this rate. Individuals and private funders continue to make up the difference as state funding declines. Ask any parent of a high schooler involved in arts (or sports for that matter). But there is a limit to those private resources.

The arts can thrive broadly only if they are understood as integral to the commons--a public good, which enriches all communities and citizens.

Do we need the arts to survive? No. The arts won't fill an empty belly. But we do need the arts to be fully human. The arts enliven hearts and minds and souls. We don't need to choose between food and joy. Work, art, human dignity--these are inseparable.