State funding for the arts has gone from little to nothing in recent years according to a policy briefing from ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Hear from the author of the report Rhonda Phillips, Associate Dean of ASU’s Barrett Honors College Downtown Campus
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona is jumping into Arizona's race for the U.S. senate. Carmona is a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran who served as surgeon general in the George W. Bush Administration. A lifelong Independent, Carmona will run as a Democrat. Reports are that he was aggressively recruited by the National Democratic Party to run for the seat being vacated by Jon Kyl's retirement. Carmona will face Don Bivens in the Democratic primary. Bivens is a former chairman of the state Democratic party. And the state senate has a new president. Steve Pierce will succeed Russell Pearce, who was recalled by voters on Tuesday. The two Pearce's are not related but the new President Pierce says he'll continue what the old President Pearce started, saying Russell Pearce did a, quote, "wonderful job, and did not deserve what happened to him." State funding for the arts has gone from little to nothing in recent years A new briefing from ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy takes a look at the decline in public funding and how the arts can be an engine for economic growth. Here to talk about the report is its author, Rhonda Phillips, the Associate Dean for ASU's Barrett Honors College Downtown Campus. Let's start with where we once were. Arizona once ranked kind of in the middle in terms of legislative arts appropriations. Correct?
Rhonda Phillips: That's right. We've lost a lot of ground in arts funding here in the state. Particularly by legislative appropriations. At one time we were pretty good, about 25th in the nation, and this year we've dropped to zero, to the last position. With no funding coming from legislative appropriations.
Ted Simons: I was going to say, you can't get much worse than that. Was this a slow decline? What happened here?
Rhonda Phillips: It happened rather quickly with the onset of the recession. And we've just seen it plummet to the point where we are now 50th, although we're tied with one other state that cut all of their funding as well, and that state is Kansas.
Ted Simons: Implications on economic development here in Arizona?
Rhonda Phillips: Oh. There are many. We have a sort of a natural link between arts and cultural development and economic development. And when we decrease our ability to have gas in the arts and culture, we obviously decrease the quality of life that we as Arizonans enjoy, but also our ability to attract others to Arizona.
Ted Simons: Are there ways to measure, like the economic impact and the quality of life impact, are there metrics you can use on this?
Rhonda Phillips: Absolutely. Quality of life is a little tougher. It's one of those nebulous concepts, but we know when it with we see it and we all enjoy various aspects of the arts and the cultural dimensions in our state. If we decrease our capacity to both educate and inform others, and have outreach in the arts, we're not able to attract that quality of life that we seek. And going back to this idea of metrics, we have the Arizona indicator system, which looks at a variety of factors across many spectrums, and one of the things that we look at pretty closely is this idea of culture and how do we measure that. Right now we're mostly looking at appropriations, but also the numbers and types of arts organizations that we have in the state.
Ted Simons: To measure arts especially, because it can be so subjective in a variety of ways, to measure that has to be kind of difficult, doesn't it?
Rhonda Phillips: It is. And it's a true challenge. But we keep trying. And a lot of people try. It's not just us. There's interest nationally and beyond in trying to capture some of those indicators that reflect quality of life. Some of those range from things like participation in the arts, education in the arts, and various outreach programs, nonprofits that work in the area, and other dimensions that we can capture.
Ted Simons: Talk about the impact of nonprofits and how they are being used or not used here in Arizona.
Rhonda Phillips: Oh, absolutely. I'm a big believer in the nonprofit sector. I believe they are the ones that really help us build our capacity, and they link the private and the public sector together. Here in Arizona, we have over a thousand nonprofit organizations that are centered on the arts. And many of these are doing remarkable work, and of course they've been impacted by decreased funding and the recession, but they are essential in so many ways, because they're the capacity builders.
Ted Simons: How do you build a nonprofit profile? What do you do?
Rhonda Phillips: Well, the nicest ways to do that, the best ways, and other states are very good at this, is providing seed funding for various initiatives, various programs, and that's what's been cut in many ways here in Arizona with no legislative appropriations for groups, the Arizona Commission on the Arts has seen a pretty dramatic decrease in the funds. Without the seed capital to spur programs and projects in the nonprofit sector, it becomes much more difficult to build that capacity.
Ted Simons: You mentioned we were tied with Kansas as the only two states that have zero funding appropriations from the legislature. What regions, cities, states, what have you, who's doing it right? Who's got a good idea that Arizona could follow?
Rhonda Phillips: That's a wonderful question. And there are some excellent models. For example, when the Arizona Commission on the Arts was established, it was loosely modeled on the Denver, Colorado model. However, Denver went a step further and they were able to capture just one 10th of 1% of a special sales tax district within their arts and cultural zone in downtown, and they have been able to generate millions of dollars to support arts from that.
Ted Simons: Is that kind of an idea, where, there's no kind of concentrated arts area here. Maybe the Roosevelt district or certain areas downtown, Scottsdale, but how would we do that here?
Rhonda Phillips: It would have to be a bit of a convoluted district, if you will. It may not be spacially oriented but it may be oriented by function, by art functions. But 1/10th of 1% is not a lot and they've received incredible benefit from that.
Ted Simons: Gerrymandering if need be.
Rhonda Phillips: We do it in other things.
Ted Simons: True. The idea that other areas and other regions have come up with some the ideas maybe folks in Arizona are trying to work with, is anything relevant when the economy is so bad?
Rhonda Phillips: Well, it's sort of them, it goes back to that old question, chicken and egg, in a way. Having a better quality of life can actually spur more economic development outcomes. And if we are able to invest in the arts when right now things are more affordable, space is more affordable, everything from labor to you name it is more affordable. Having the seed investments and building that capacity now will generate long-term outcomes in economic development. And there's no better time to try to help some of these particularly nonprofit organizations, but our arts education in the state. And to refresh and regroup so that we can have that capacity.
Ted Simons: Okay, I'm a lawmaker. Convince me in a very short period of time, because I'm a busy lawmaker, convince me what I'm doing now is wrong and we've got to get some funding. Some seed money at the very least going.
Rhonda Phillips: Here's the bottom line on all this. Without high-quality arts and cultural characteristics and dimensions of an economy, we don't have a hope to attract and grow the kind of economy that we want to have and to continue. You have to have that. It's a given, and the relationship between economic development and the arts, and if we're not able to compete in that dimension, we can't hope to enjoy that sort of outcome.
Ted Simons: Are real lawmakers, the real McCoys, are they listening right now to that argument or is it tough sledding?
Rhonda Phillips: It's been tough. I hope they will listen if for nothing else the economic development argument should be very attractive.
Ted Simons: All right. It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.
Rhonda Phillips: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
Rhonda Phillips:Associate Dean, ASU Barrett Honors College, Downtown Campus;