Arts reel from county cuts

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The character Anna in the musical The King and I may “whistle a happy tune,” but local arts advocates are not.

In the wake of a 6-5 vote in June by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to eliminate all funding for community-based organizations, local arts groups are retrenching.

The Community Theatre of Greensboro, for example, has cancelled its production of The King and I that had been scheduled for next spring.

The nonprofit company scrubbed the musical after learning it would receive $7,200 less than the $70,000 grant it had expected from the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro.

“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Mitchell Sommers, the theater company’s executive director. “Right now, it’s a tough time for the arts.”

The United Arts Council reduced the grant to the Community Theatre as part of its effort to regroup after losing $140,000 in county funding, or nearly 10 percent of its annual budget of just over $1.4 million.

Overall, the council halved grants for arts projects to $25,000 from $50,000.

It also reduced its operating-grants program by $40,000 from nearly $767,000, and suspended its arts grants for teachers.

And because of the county cuts and a slump in the local economy, the council also reduced its goals for private fundraising for the year – and thus the funds it will have for operating grants — by another $40,000 to $687,000.

The seven-year-old teacher-grants program provided $20,000 to help public schools integrate the arts into their core curriculum and collaborate with artists and arts groups.

The High Point Arts Council, which 20 years ago launched a teacher-art-grants program that served as the model for the Greensboro program, also has suspended its teacher-grants funding, which totaled $13,000.

Overall, the High Point Arts Council lost $70,000 in county funding, or just over 10 percent of its annual budget of $650,000.

“It’s devastating,” says Debbie Lumpkins, executive director of the High Point Arts Council.
Jeanie Duncan, president and CEO of the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro, says the teacher-art-grants programs for Greensboro and High Point combined provided funds for 40 to 50 schools, or roughly half the number of schools that applied for the grants.

“If that program were double the size, we would get a lot closer to being able to meet the needs,” she says. “This program is vital because it helps prepare our children to have a well-rounded education, to be a productive workforce one day.”

The cuts also mean the United Arts Council likely will not meet its over fundraising goal of $1.5 million this year, Duncan says.

“Both arts councils are doing all we can to raise funding from the public and private sector,” she says. “However, with our local market and economy, we are proceeding with the realism that it will be challenging to restore these dollars this year.”

The commissioners’ vote to cut funding coincided with a study that found nonprofit arts and culture generate over $30.7 million in annual spending and nearly $2.9 million in local and state tax revenue in Guilford County and account for nearly 1,100 jobs.

“The arts are an industry that needs and deserves Guilford Country’s investment in the arts,” Duncan says.

Lumpkins agrees.

“Guilford County is getting the benefit of the arts in recruiting and trying to bring in outside companies, and that’s what they look at,” she says.

Sommers of the Community Theatre says that even before they voted in June to eliminate funding, the county commissioners were not providing enough funding for the arts.

“I would love to see the day,” he says, “when the government will truly understand the impact the arts have on business, on people moving to the area, on downtown development, on children in school.”

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