The governor's proposed budget calls for an 80-percent reduction in funding to the Washington State Arts Commission office, which gives grants to organizations and supports arts education all over the state. The annual money supporting the office from the general fund would drop from $1.2 million to $250,000, says WSAC spokesman Mark Gerth. The staff would be cut 50 percent, and the office would move from an independent agency into the Department of Commerce.
Typically, WSAC would release its grant applications now for the spring cycle, but those are on hold until the legislature adjourns with (they hope) a final budget in April, at which point the office will have a plan in place for the future. Any grant already awarded will be honored, Gerth said.
It's unclear how the public art program will be affected by the cuts. Since new commissions come through the capital budget rather than the general fund, they are naturally low in lean years. The governor's budget does include mention of continuing to maintain the current collection.
How would WSAC look different under the Department of Commerce? Gerth says that's not known as yet. One of the office's priorities is making sure it keeps its eligibility for National Endowment for the Arts money, which comes in at about $900,000 per year (the total WSAC operating budget is now $2.7 million). The NEA requires that state arts agencies have a board or commission as part of their makeup, so that model will likely continue here.
Will WSAC be fighting the cuts? Well, that's not how it works. "We work for the governor—the governor's our boss, so the governor's budget is our budget," Gerth said. "We do understand, though, that the legislature comes in and has a very large say in what our budget looks like, and we understand that constituents have a say here."
What say you, constituents? I'm going to be looking to talk to as many people as I can about this in the next couple of days. Email me, or comment here.