Leaders in Connecticut’s arts community and their supporters are stunned over Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to cut more than $11 million in payments to local arts programs as of July 1.
The proposed cuts have raised eyebrows as more than 20 different programs are slated to receive no funding at all and currently have a zero placed next to their names in Malloy’s budget. The groups have already set their fiscal plans for the 2012 calendar year, and they were surprised that their state funding could disappear in the middle of the year.
The cuts include $2.1 million for the Connecticut Humanities Council, nearly $800,000 for the New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas, $630,000 for the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, $620,000 for Mystic Aquarium, and $530,000 for the Maritime Center Authority in Norwalk. Malloy also is seeking to slice $378,000 each from the Amistad vessel, the Stamford Center for the Arts, the Palace Theatre in Waterbury, and the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport.
The cuts also include $354,000 to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, $300,000 for the Garde Arts Center in New London, $150,000 for the Ivoryton Playhouse, and a combined $95,000 for the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe houses in Hartford. The cuts stretch around the state, including nearly $95,000 each for the Greater Hartford Arts Council and the New Haven Arts Council and $75,000 for the Greater New Britain Arts Alliance.
The groups will be permitted to compete for $14 million from a state fund, but the exact details of how the competitive process would work were still unclear Wednesday.
Catherine Smith, the Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner, told legislators on the appropriations committee Wednesday that Malloy is “moving away from an earmarked, line item by line item grant” for the arts.
At the same time, Malloy is calling for spending an additional $10 million on statewide marketing to help increase tourism under the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
Sen. Robert Duff of Norwalk asked Smith to explain the department’s thinking “as to why you think this is a good idea” to cut funding to zero for many arts groups.
Smith responded that Malloy was moving away from earmarked money for the organizations to “a more comprehensive and competitive process” in a transition.
“They’ve set their budgets for the calendar year, and they are very nervous,” Duff said of the groups facing the cuts. “They’re a little shocked at the zeroes.”
“The goal is not to zero-out these organizations, despite what it looks like on paper,” Smith responded. “We do want to move toward that notion that people will apply for funding on an annual basis.”
Smith said, “I don’t know” if the arts groups were told in advance that their grants would be sliced to zero.
She added, “We are by no means intending for anyone to lose their federal funding.”
Duff, though, was not convinced.
“We may have to agree to disagree on some of this,” Duff said, adding that he is “not completely comfortable with this in the way it was rolled out.” He added, “The legislative branch, as a co-equal branch of government, has a role to play, too.”
Later, Smith said that the state would be increasing money for tourism to $25 million and will be developing a new “brand” for Connecticut.
“The governor worked on the ‘I Love New York’ campaign when he was in law school,” Smith told Sen. Toni Harp, the longtime co-chairwoman of the appropriations committee. “We haven’t got a brand yet that we can hang our hat on. We hired four firms to do the work with us. … I forget all the names of these various firms.”
Harp responded that television advertising is “really, really expensive” to broadcast.
“This is what the research will inform us about on where to spend the dollars,” Smith respondend. ”We want to be aiming at a younger, maybe 3o to 50, age market. … We’re mostly a drive-to state for tourism.”
As such, some advertising would be targeted at states like Rhode Island and New Jersey because vacationers can drive from those states to Connecticut, she said.
“We will be happy to come back to this committee and any others once those decisions are made,” Smith said, adding that she would have more answers in April.
“I’m very concerned with $25 million,” Harp said. “There are companies that spent more than that on Super Bowl Sunday.”
The other co-chairwoman, Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven, asked Smith to bring a detailed breakdown of the $25 million to future meetings.
“It is not a product. It is a culture. Culture is very hard to define, but we need to maintain that value,” Walker said.
When Walker asked Smith about an increase in funding for scattered site supportive housing in her agency’s budget, Smith responded, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what scatter-site housing is.”
“OK,” Walker responded, sounding surprised.
During a public hearing Wednesday night, Harp said she wondered how much of a priority it was in Malloy’s budget.
“We talked to the commissioner earlier today, and she didn’t know what scattered site housing was,” Harp said, about six hours after Smith’s initial comments.
The New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas has been on the budget-cutting list at times in the past, but former state Rep. William R. Dyson – the powerful co-chairman of the appropriations committee in those days – always fought to have the money restored. The festival generates an estimated $20 million in economic activity and attracts as many as 125,000 people to New Haven. With Dyson’s retirement from the legislature, the two main defenders of funding in New Haven are the two co-chairwomen of the appropriations committee: Harp and Walker.
This year’s event will be the 17th annual festival, coming on the heels of a successful 2011 festival that included a free concert on the New Haven Green by the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Elsie Chapman, the vice chair of the festival’s board, said Wednesday night that the festival generates 150 paid jobs, supports more than 200 Connecticut artists, and fills 300 hotel rooms. She noted that the state government previously contributed more than $1 million to the festival for a highly successful event.
“We are 122 days away from an international event,” said Mary Lou Aleskie, the festival’s executive director. “This is not just about arts funding. This is about economic vitality.”
During the joint testimony by Chapman and Aleskie at the state Capitol complex Wednesday night, Harp asked, “I know this was traumatic and shocking to be in the governor’s budget. But what are you going to do?”
State Rep. Craig Miner, the committee’s House ranking member, asked about the “re-branding” of Connecticut on television and how that will work.
One Capitol insider expects there will be major pushback from the arts community.
“They’re the ones that got cut the worst,” the insider said. “I think they will be up here in droves.”
Smith’s deputy, Kip Bergstrom, has held five forums around the state to inform the arts community about the proposed changes for competitive grants and a “transition” period for funding. The meetings started January 24 in New Haven, and the most recent was Wednesday in Hartford.
But Stuart Parnes of the Connecticut Humanities Council said that Bergstrom never mentioned the funding cuts at any of the meetings.
“We were all very surprised,” Parnes said. “We were all shocked. … We don’t really know what the [future funding] guidelines will be at this point.”
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