Bill Could Give Arts Commission Secure Source of Funding

The head of the S.C. Arts Commission is taking a cautious approach regarding a recently introduced bill that could give his agency a steady source of revenue.

Ken May, executive director of the commission, said one of the key components of H. 4697 is a provision that would provide the agency with a set percentage of state admission tax revenues, rather than have the commission’s funding held to what some see as the vagaries of politics.

“What I like about the idea is that it’s saying, ‘let the arts pay their own way,’” he said. “If arts generate revenue for the state, let’s take a portion and reinvest it for the benefits of arts across the state.”

If the bill passes, it would eliminate some of the uncertainty that has surrounded funding for the agency in recent years, particularly since Gov. Nikki Haley took office in January 2011. Currently, the agency has to submit its budget to the governor, who then forwards it to the General Assembly.

Haley vetoed all funding for the agency last year, a total of $3.6 million, including more than $1.9 million in general funds.

However, the General Assembly overrode Haley’s veto by an overwhelming margin.

For 2012-13, the commission submitted a budget request of $3.54 million, including $1,864,988 in state funds, which would represent a 3 percent reduction in the latter if approved.

However, Haley’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year completely eliminates both state and federal funding for the commission.

Last June, following her veto, Haley said funding for the Arts Commission is something the private sector can handle.

“I absolutely believe the private sector will step up with the Arts Commission,” she told The Associated Press, adding that she would help find private sector support.

The Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing services, grants and leadership initiatives in arts education, community arts development and artist development.

One of the fundamentals to a prosperous future for South Carolina is enhancing the state’s quality of life, said Rep. James Smith, D-Richland and a co-sponsor of the bill.

“Vibrant, creative communities are essential toward improving our quality of life and the Arts Commission is an important part of that,” Smith said.

“This bill would hopefully end what has become an annual battle with the governor over funding for the Arts Commission,” he added.

The bill would require that the Arts Commission receive an amount equal to 15 percent of the general fund portion of state admissions tax revenues from the previous year, after other revenue transfers required by law have taken place.

Smith said although he didn’t know exactly how much that would mean for the commission if the bill becomes law, it’s comparable to what the agency is getting now.

“It’s more than what they had last year, but it’s far less than what they’ve had in the past,” Smith said. “There’s no windfall, no huge amount of money that will come to them.”

The commission has seen its share of state dollars cut sharply over the past few years.

State funding has fallen by more than 50 percent from a decade ago, when the agency received nearly $4.2 million in General Funds and more than $6 million in all.

For the current fiscal year, the commission received $1,927,795 in general funds and a total of $3,605,566, by comparison.

H. 4697 would also keep in place a requirement that 70 percent of the funding allocated to the Arts Commission go to grants for children’s and community programs.

Ensuring a recurring stream of funding for the commission is essential, according to Larry Barnwell, director of fine arts for Dorchester School District 2.

“The more arts we add, the higher our test scores go,” Barnwell said. “Teaching the whole child requires a solid arts education because it’s so crucial to the global economy and cultural literacy.

“The higher-level thinking skills – creativity, being presented a problem and asked to solve it even though there is no real right or wrong answer – that’s what’s really being taught in art. You have to think outside the box,” Barnwell said.

“You cannot have a state where so many people are going to be affected by art careers without an organization at the top directing that,” he added. “It takes somebody someplace to pull all those people together and focus them, and that’s what the Arts Commission does.”

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.

Last year, Haley said in her veto message that funding the Arts Commission should not be the responsibility of the taxpayers of South Carolina, adding that the agency was not a core function of government. 

Smith, for one, disagrees with that notion.

“I’ve been active in economic development and recruiting businesses; and I can tell you that people want to come to a community that is vibrant, that is full of life, and that is found in areas with a strong arts background,” he said.

“Cutting funding for the Arts Commission might be good politics, but it’s bad public policy,” Smith said. “We need to get away from bumper sticker policies.”

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or

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4 Responses to Bill Could Give Arts Commission Secure Source of Funding

  1. Paula says:

    Art’s careers??? Please, just what this state and country needs more Art’s degrees. How about math and science degrees instead. Just vote no on H 4697.

  2. shunterb says:

    I’m with the governor. If its good art it will sell. If its trash, as a lot is, it should be buried, not funded.

  3. Neighbors says:

    This is regression in the worse time and place. Over 50 years of progress in the State of South Carolina will be eradicated. Our lady of grace and arts, Dr. Virginia Uldrick, will not believe the backwardness of this time. Is there no end to the ‘cutting up of our heritage of fine arts’? Where are our hearts and minds? Does anyone expect that more than 50 years of leadership both in the Fine Arts center In Greenville and Science Center in the low country should be stepped on? What’s wrong with you bean counters? Where do you think future generals of artists and scientists will flourish? In their deep six sink? God have mercy on the arts and sciences in South Carolina.

    • Camille Noonan says:

      Why does it have to be an all or nothing. There are many groups that provide benchmarking with other cities/States that we could look at and perhaps model after. I am a great lover of the arts-but that does not mean I think that the government needs to pay for this. I believe that the private sector will pick up much of the cost of programming-but not like before as they are feeling the economy also. Perhaps citizens can help in various ways. My point-it does not have to be an all or nothing deal.

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