Arizona ArtBeat: New Arts Funding

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The Arizona Commission on the Arts received a one-time budget allocation of $1 million for fiscal year 2014 from the state legislature. The new money will be used to support the commission’s existing statewide grant-making activities to promote arts education and access to nonprofit art organizations. It will also be used to create a pair of brand new grant programs designed to support innovative art initiatives. Arts Commission Executive Director Robert Booker will discuss the new funding.

Ted Simons: The Arizona commission on the arts received a one-time budget allocation of $1 million from state legislature last session set to be used to support existing statewide grants and to develop new programs targeting innovative arts initiatives. Robert Booker is the arts commission's executive director. Thanks for being here. One time budget allocation, $1 million. How big a deal is that?

Robert Booker: A big deal. It's the first time the agency was not cut in the last five years, the first time the agency received a boost in funding. It was a major deal. It was a bill passed by bipartisan issues so we had a great lead in Senator Farley, we had folks on both sides of the aisle really helping push this through. The money came from the rainy day fund, the interest off of that fund. The idea was we should put those dollars to work and what better way to put them to work than increase the opportunities that the arts industry has for gaining our economy across Arizona.

Ted Simons: No impact on the general fund, interest off the rainy day fund.

Robert Booker: Yes, sir.

Ted Simons: The impact on your grant making, talk to us about grant making. The process and what this does.

Robert Booker: Sure. We took 70% of that million and put it right into our annual grant making program which goes out to arts organizations across the state. We found that these organizations are part of the economic recovery of Arizona, part of the arts and education programs of Arizona, and we needed to reinforce their strength with a bit more money to really help them move through this economy. They were hit hard and in many cases had to cut staff, had to cut programming, so we are now in a recovery mode with the arts industry in Arizona. A solid recovery mode. These dollars did help to bring that about. We again have to go back next year and try to capture the dollars again, but it's interesting to think that only $1 million can have the impact that it did across the state.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about some of the new programs this will help fund. The community catalyst grants.

Robert Booker: We have two new programs, community catalyst is all about partnerships. The idea that two partners can do better than one. So this is a program that enables nonprofit arts organizations to partner with a local business, with chamber of commerce, with tourism visitors bureau, with the social service group in their community to make an impact on that community, a positive impact on that community. So it's all about partnerships and we're also focused on small and rural communities as well. So we're really pushing this out to our smaller communities across the state.

Ted Simons: Explain an enriching arts program to a community under 100,000. Give me the description of what that could be.

Robert Booker: It could be a partnership with the chamber of commerce to bring tourists to that community. It could be a partnership with the YMCA, the boys and girls clubs to work on a safe park initiative. It could be a project working with a school system or with an elder care facility providing arts and education in partnership with that. It could be about safe streets, safe parks. Taking care of our seniors, our community. All the things that arts and business can do together.

Ted Simons: The other new program big one here, Arizona art talk.

Robert Booker: Arizona art tank.

Ted Simons: I'm sorry, I got that wrong.

Robert Booker: It's a great program. It's built after the shark tank show, frankly. What we're challenging our arts organizations to do is come up with something innovative that's new, creative. They will present those programs, those ideas, to panels, local panels in five communities in Arizona and that local panel of Sharks that you may say will make the decision right there in the evening. We'll also have an audience that will get a small vote in awarding one of the tiny grants that go out in that. But the idea is that our arts organizations have been under fire since the economy went down. There have been really looking forward to just making the budget, keeping the things going, offering the programs they need and quite frankly they are kind of hunkered down. We believe, and know, that the arts are one of the most creative aspects of our community and so why not encourage arts organizations to think outside the box, to think of something exciting.

Ted Simons: With that in mind the criteria for that art tank, you have judges all looking and trying to pick and choose. What are they picking and choosing from?

Robert Booker: They are picking and choosing from applications that come into the agency from nonprofit arts organizations that are planning a project that is innovative, new, we're calling it also business unusual. The idea that maybe there's something that you have always wanted to do with your arts organization in relationship to your community. Maybe a connection you've wanted to make or an idea for self-sustaining work. Or an idea that may challenge the assumptions that people in your community have about your art form. A way to develop more audience. All of those will be eligible.

Ted Simons: It seems to me all this is reflecting a bit of a change now in how arts organizations are funded, how art is distributed. This is forged by fire it sounds like.

Robert Booker: It's a huge change. With the reductions in the arts commission, we had a $20 million endowment that was swept. 2.3 million annual appropriation that is no longer existent. When you're poor you better be hard working. What we decided is we turn our grant program upside down and focused on how our nonprofit arts organizations are reserving Arizonans, how they are handling public dollars, so making sure that they are fiscally sound, and how they are relating to their own community. Those are the three criteria we used this last year in this new normal because we believe that the arts industry has a huge impact on Arizona and it's our job to help move them forward and help keep them secure.

Ted Simons: We have about 30 seconds left. One time allocation, what are the odds of it being two, three, four time allocation?

Robert Booker: I sure hope it can be. We'll work hard with our friends at the legislature, our governor's office. She was supportive of this last initiative so we thank her for that. It's a bipartisan issue, an issue that serves Arizonans and an issue that helps us be mindful of our future.

Ted Simons: Bob, thanks for joining us.

Robert Booker: Great to be with you.

Robert Booker:Executive Director, The Arizona Commission of the Arts;

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