State awards smaller arts grants, leaving groups wondering how to balance budgets
The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs announced grant awards to arts organizations across the state today, including 15 in Washtenaw County.
Due to the state's ongoing budget problems, the total money awarded through the program has dropped sharply in recent years. This year's grants total about $2 million statewide; 5 years ago the program awarded more than $25 million.
In the past, larger organizations —Â including, locally, the University Musical Society —Â received grants in the hundreds of thousands of dollars; in this round, $20,000 was the limit.
The Michigan Theater, for one, saw its grant drop from $50,000 to $10,000. Executive director Russ Collins said the theater has already made substantial staff and program cuts and hopes that a grant from the Downtown Development Authority and increased donor support will make up the difference.
That could be challenging. As Collins explained in an email: "However, over the last 5 months, we have noticed a phenomenon known as 'donor fatigue.' This has resulted in fewer gifts in the current fiscal year than in the previous fiscal year. With economic trends on the upswing, we are hoping 'donor fatigue' will abate during the spring and summer and donation revenues will return to more normal levels by the autumn. If they do not show signs of an upswing by the end of the summer we will need to make fairly draconian budget cuts in September that will affect the 2010-2011 season of events."
Kerrytown Concert House took a much smaller hit, from $8,500 to $7,500. But director Deanna Relyea said they still face budget challenges, becoming more creative with bookings and rentals. KCH has also been helped by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
"Having the MCACA dollars are extremely important to KCH. This makes a crucial difference as we plan the rest of the season and even next year — gives us courage to take a bit of a risk in the artistic arena," she said.
The Ann Arbor Art Center saw its initial 2009 award of $9,000 fall to $7,500. Like the Michigan Theater, the Art Center has reduced staff and taken other cost-cutting measures.
"It may be flippant to say "any money from any source is good" but in our community right now people are not writing checks for $7,500," Art Center President/CEO Marsha Chamberlin said in an email. "Many historically generous funders are not giving at all. The MCACA funding is a very nice gift to receive. Being able to say you receive support from the state and a jury of your peers carries weight when we write grants and talk to funders."
Local grant recipients are:
American Romanian Festival: $5,400 Ann Arbor Art Center: $7,500 Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra: $7,500 Artrain: $7,500 Chelsea Center for the Arts: $7,500 Kerrytown Concert House: $7,500 Michigan Theater Foundation: $10,000 Performance Network of Ann Arbor: $7,500 Michigan Radio: $13,600 University of Michigan Museum of Art: $15,000 The Ark: $10,000 The Arts Alliance: $7,500 University Musical Society: $15,000 Wild Swan Theater: $7,500 Young Adults' Health Center: $7,500
According to the announcement, in determining grant awards the council considers recommendations from panels of arts and culture professionals; geographic distribution; diversity; balance among funding programs; under-served communities, access and delivery of quality programming; and services to citizens and communities.
Arts leaders say the grants remain important. Mary Steffek Blaske, executive director of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, said in an email: “I am very pleased that the State of Michigan, through the MCACA, continues to show its support of arts and culture, in the face of so many tugs on its budget. I am very proud of this support because having the imprimatur of the state shows that there has been a rigorous vetting of each awarded artistic or cultural organization, its programming, its product, and its positive impact in the community. Arts and culture are more important to our lives now than ever before, so even though this is not the level of support any of our organizations has built its programming on in past seasons, it means that our legislators are listening."
Collins wrote: "We very much want to encourage the State of Michigan to continue to invest in the support of arts. Michigan is clearly in financial difficulties, but so are many other states. Michigan, which used to be among the elite states in terms of support of education and creative industries, is now at the very bottom. This is an embarrassment for a great state like the State of Michigan. Investment in education and creative industries provides tangible social dividends. It is a sign of social health, growth and business vitality. Not providing funds for education and creative industries are a sign a state or institution is willing to endure a downward spiral of business dynamics and the general quality of life.
"Practically it appears that our state government is willing to accept this downward spiral. This is sad and very unfortunate. I am hoping that the citizens of Michigan will encourage our elected official to breakthrough ideological roadblocks and address the overwhelming problems facing our state, of which a minor but symbolically important problems is the defunding of the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs."
More information is available online at the MCACA web site.