This is the basis of the Cool Cities Initiative, launched by Governor Granholm in 2003. Its a vision for fostering the use of arts and culture to transform Michigans cities into centers of creativity and vitality thereby attracting the new industries that will revitalize the states economy.
Numerous studies support the efficacy of this strategy. Richard Floridas groundbreaking book, The Rise of the Creative Class, provides an exhaustive reference.
Yet, during roughly the same time period as the Cool Cities Initiative, the state has cut arts funding more than 60%. At a time when Michigan needs to be nurturing growth industries like the arts, it is engaged in a systematic disinvestment in one of the potential catalysts in reshaping the states economy.
Six years ago, Michigan was fourth in the nation in terms of arts funding. It now ranks 35th.
It gets worse. The State Senate has proposed a $3.6 million cut in arts grants for fiscal year 2007 nearly 40% of the remaining arts budget. On March 29, Governor Granholm imposed a moratorium on grant expenditures for the balance of FY 2007, which ends on September 30. This effectively freezes $7.5 million in grants already promised to arts and cultural organizations of all sizes throughout Michigan, via the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA). In Northwestern Michigan, total allocations of more than $500,000 were made as part of this seasons grant cycle, less than one-third of which has been paid to date.
Locally, the moratorium affects the Dennos Museum Center, Crooked Tree Arts Center, Old Town Playhouse, Interlochen Center for the Arts, Encore Winds, and my own organization, the Traverse Symphony Orchestra, among others. It also puts the regranting program of the Traverse Area Arts Council the local agent for MCACA on hold. The Arts Council will be unable to pass promised funds on to numerous arts organizations.
The vehicle for the awarding of funds consists of a written agreement between the State and the arts organization. The organization, in effect, enters into a contract with the State to provide services to its citizenry, for which the State provides financial remuneration. At this point in the fiscal year, most of the activities the arts organizations contracted to provide have already taken place or are in the process of being implemented. This is like purchasing services and then withholding payment. The larger organizations, it is to be hoped, will be able to absorb this at least for now. Smaller groups, with fewer funding options, are more vulnerable. Some may not survive.
Well, youre probably thinking, thats too bad, but times are tough in Michigan. The State is barely able to provide basic services, let alone fund the arts.
No one would deny the reality of the states budgetary crisis. The current deficit amounts to nearly $3 billion. Our elected leaders are hard-pressed to find solutions to balancing the budget. And like any business, if new revenues cannot be identified, expenses must be cut.
My point is simply this: arts funding is an investment the state cannot afford... to do without! The Governor herself, in a recent editorial, warned against slashing the things that will ensure that Michigan and our citizens can compete in the global marketplace.
The states Cool Cities website notes: Build a cool city and they young knowledge workers and other creative class members will come. The arts are the building blocks for a cool city.
Local anecdotal evidence for this emerges in conversation with the many gifted professionals who have moved to our area during the past 10 years. Repeatedly they cite the remarkable plethora of arts offerings as one of the main attractors right up there with the excellent school systems, health care, and the proverbial view of the bay.
The arts are key to Northern Michigans main industry: tourism. One of Convention & Visitors Bureau President Brad Van Dommelens primary goals is to extend our regions tourism season beyond those few short summer weeks, in order to build a more stable, year-round local tourism industry. As Brad has repeatedly attested, the arts are among the most valuable tools in his kit.
The arts are key to downtown revitalization. A recently-completed market study for downtown Traverse City called for increased arts and entertainment activities as a lynchpin in building more evening and weekend business activity downtown. Imagine Front Street with the Opera House and State Theatre open every night, filling restaurants and generating the volume of foot traffic needed to warrant extended hours for shop owners.
The arts are a key partner in community education. TSO musicians, for example, offer workshops, master classes and general assemblies in schools throughout the region usually at no cost to the schools. We are able to do this because of a combination of funding from the State and private foundations. School officials confirm the value of this partnership, which has grown in importance with the crisis in education funding.
The arts are central to quality of life, attracting knowledge workers and new industry, revitalizing downtowns, expanding tourism, fostering experiential education programming. They are one of the key elements that will enable Michigan to compete in the global marketplace. And they are currently imperiled by the states funding crisis.
The problem is a familiar one to every surgeon: perform too radical a surgery, and you take away the patients ability to recover.
As thoughtful citizens, it is up to us to empower our elected officials to lead. Get involved! Contact the Governor and your representatives! Urge them to end the current moratorium and make no further cuts on state grants to arts and cultural organizations. Uncool Cities Michigan does not need.
Andrew Buelow is executive director of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra.