Arts cuts hurt economy

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(The following open letter was sent from the members of the Wisconsin Arts Board to Gov. Scott Walker)

As your citizen representatives to Wisconsin’s state arts agency and as business owners, employers, and employees in the nonprofit and public sectors, the 15 members of the Wisconsin Arts Board understand that big cuts to state spending are necessary to balance the upcoming biennial budget. We also know that communities continue to reel from the economic crisis, and that job creation must be a top priority.

The current budget proposal includes plans to dissolve the arts board and cut the state’s investment in its arts and culture sector by 73 percent – a mistake if we are serious about economic recovery and new job creation.

Funding to the arts board currently represents no more than .013 percent of the budget (13 thousandths of 1 percent), but that small investment pays huge dividends in the resiliency of regional economies in every part of the state. Grants and more than 10,000 hours per year of expert consulting to nonprofit organizations and artists protect and maintain the cultural infrastructure of the state.

A vibrant cultural scene contributed to drawing the promise of 200 new high-paying jobs to Eau Claire in 2009, the lowest ebb of the crisis. That cultural infrastructure convinces companies looking to locate in Wisconsin that they can grow in a dynamic setting in every corner of the state. That infrastructure has become as essential as roads and bridges to development, recruitment and retention of a competitive workforce and the businesses that follow.

The arts board is the only state agency providing leadership and support to develop the state’s creative economy. This dynamic sector enjoys a 14 percent annual growth rate in the world economy; in Wisconsin, it boasts 3.6 percent of total employment. The arts board helps local and regional economic development organizations develop their creative industries.

The Wisconsin Arts Board is recognized nationally as a leader in supporting community development and creativity in education.

Even though the Arts Board has not seen an increase in state funding since 1992, we will willingly take a 10 percent cut to do our part to help address the deficit. This cut, proportionate to cuts other state agencies have been asked to take, will still allow us to provide high-quality services, smart development of our cultural infrastructure and workforce, and to help Wisconsin’s communities attract new jobs.

We encourage everyone to let your legislators know that elimination of this citizen-led agency would cripple the jobs agenda and be a false economy by many measures. Knowledge and expertise would be lost, organizations and businesses rendered more vulnerable, and jobs lost instead of created. Insist our state maintain a bright jobs future with the ongoing leadership of the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Wisconsin Arts Board members