Is Cutting the Arts Solving the Problem or Making it Worse?

In July of 2012, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina made major vetoes towards the state’s budget citing “pork barrel spending”. One of the 81 vetoes consisted of the South Carolina Arts Commission’s budget crippling the organization to the point of job loss and elimination of grants provided by the organization to art groups across the state. Governor Haley posted on her Facebook days after her vetoes claiming, “This is not about the merit of their fights but the back door way of getting the money. It’s wrong and another loophole for legislators and special interests to use”. Since when is supporting the arts been wrong? Not only does the South Carolina Arts Commission creates over $9.

2 billion for the state, but it spreads the message that art brings communities together and allows artist to share their talents and inspire others. Nevertheless, the real issue here is more than just cutting the South Carolina Arts Commission from the state budget. It’s about cutting the arts in general. Governor Haley’s blatant disregard for the arts supports the idea that when times get tough, governments and communities cut base funding toward arts programs. Art is more than pretty pictures and music; it’s an exploration of imagination and perception. By using South Carolina as an example for what states will do in tough times, art is shown as more of necessity for community growth instead of just another waste of money.

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Governor Haley’s veto towards the Arts Commission was overridden by the House of Representatives and Senate but not in time stop the damage she ensued. Since the legislature didn’t pass the 2012-2013 budget until the fiscal year had already started, the South Carolina Arts Commission had to be forced to shut down because there was no funding to pay the staff and along with no budget for grants. Governor Haley believes that small art organizations could sustain themselves by donations from private sectors but when in fact, most of these organizations depend on the funding from the South Carolina Arts Commission. The result of her decision led to jobs being cut instead of lowering the unemployment rate. Her decision led to protests on the front steps of the state house saying “It’s a grim day in South Carolina” and to petitions demanding to be signed and heard.

She also created this idea that arts don’t matter much; that paintings, music, and theatre are just wastes of the budget. She is not the first to refute the importance of the arts. 31 states have cut their arts budget for 2012’s fiscal budget. States such as Kansas, Texas, and Wisconsin have cut their arts fund up to 67% and trend is still growing. It does make sense that when our country is struggling to make ends meet, certain things have to be cut but to eradicate the whole arts funding should be unacceptable. When the community loses its support for art programs like with Governor Haley’s veto, the schools ultimately loses support too.

The decreased amount of funding for arts programs in schools is staggering. With all the focus now drawn to core subjects like math and science, the music, dance, and theatre classes are left in the shadows to slowly disappear. In South Carolina, the South Carolina Education Lottery program has a scholarship enhancement of up to $10,000 to those who attend a state college and major in a math or science. There are no enhancements for any other major expect in those two subjects. With that much on the line for a scholarship that will ease the debt of student loans, it’s not hard to tell why so many students choose the away from the artistic majors. Students with this scholarship work hard to in the first place to earn it by being in the top 6% of your high school class, an SAT score of 1200 or higher, and a 3.

5 GPA. These students that don’t have the math or science major, it’s a slap in the face. The scholarship enhancement makes it seem like these students don’t matter as much as the math and science majors by deciding to pursue their passion. Shouldn’t the focus be equal at the least for these students who work just hard as the others to get what they earn? Art infused education gives opportunities for both cognitive and emotional sides of an individual to be expressed and explored. It expands children’s imagination to create new ideas.

Children who are exposed to arts based classes along with the regular curriculum in either discussion or action showed higher test scores and comprehension skills than those without. In recent College Board studies, students that have taken classes in art performance or art appreciation scored over 50 points higher than those who didn’t. Research has also shown students involved in music at school receive higher academic honors along high grade averages such as As, A/Bs, and Bs. Overall, statistics and research support the idea that with a balanced education involving both arts and the core classes, student performance will improve. The South Carolina Arts Commission and other programs just like it across the country fund hundreds of groups who teach classes in music, theatre, and art for people with ages ranging from young children to adults in order to show the importance of arts in a community. It’s the reason these groups focus on artist development, arts education, and community arts development because by starting at the grassroots, there is constant influence of the lives in the communities.

However without the necessary state funds, they can’t function to the standards it needs to make an impact on the community. For example in South Carolina’s budget, there are funds that have too much or not enough like the arts commission. This year alone $2 million was proposed to give to the Republican Presidential Primary. With $2 million, the arts commission would have almost all their budget back which is approximately $2 million to run the commission and $500,000 for the grants it gives. If the state can’t pay for programs that have around for more than 40 years but can help fund the Republican Presidential Primary, the priorities of the state need to be checked. They put their political ambitions in front of the welfare and intellectual growth of their citizens.

Most people know that South Carolina is a Republican state and could not be swayed to switch. The state doesn’t need to spend money on something that will last only a few months to show who they support but for something long standing. Along with the budget cut from the primary, there can be small cuts from different budgets in the state’s “rainy day” fund which could be used to for the South Carolina Arts Commission. Even with little fixes by trimming budgets of other projects, there is still major protest by who say art doesn’t need state funding at all. Most recently, Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney said he would eliminate funding towards programs such as the National Endowment for the Arts and PBS believing they would be able to fund themselves on their own which is a shared belief amongst several government officials. Eliminating fund for the arts isn’t unconstitutional either.

When in fact, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution about providing money for artistic expression. All that has been done in support for the arts was because someone thought of the necessity of it for the individual. Citizens understand national and state budgets are limited in what they can and can’t do which results in drastic measures. However people aren’t asking for the state to give billions of dollars to the arts.

They just want enough to know that art programs won’t be forced down due to lack of funding. People are willing to fight to make sure that these programs stay around. Despite Governor Haley’s possible sincere gestures for eliminating budgets in hopes of giving “tax relief,” she didn’t realize that the state wants the South Carolina Arts Commission. Days after the vetoes, thousands of people signed petitions demanding the commission’s budget to be returned. People gathered outside the state house holding “Occupy the Arts” protests.

They wanted to show that arts have much more impact on a community than originally thought. Local artist McClellan Douglas of Columbia commented on the situation that supporting the arts makes a “place worth living” and that it’s not a charity but an investment for our society today and in the future. Art adds a voice to a place by showing creativity and imagination can flourish with support behind it. Cutting art programs is not the solution. It’s the opposite reaction of what people want.

There are reasons why art reaches people more than just facts and why people are so adamant on keeping art programs around. Art provokes emotions, imagination, and ideas of seeing life differently. To put a limit on growth as an individual would a consequence towards the rest of the world. Programs such as the South Carolina Arts Commission aren’t “pork barrel spending” but are necessities for the state to thrive as an arts based community. By the passion shown by the citizens of South Carolina and the legislature, it could create a message that arts do matter and are more than a waste of money.

Arts should at the top list of priorities in state budgets because what they do and sponsor affects the rest of the communities across the country.