On Sunday, February 21, the House Appropriations Committee adopted a recommendation that state funding of the Virginia Commission for the Arts be cut by 50% in 2010-11 and that the agency be eliminated by July 1, 2011. The Senate Finance Committee has adopted the proposal of outgoing Governor Kaine that state funding for the Commission remains at the same level as the 2009-2010 state appropriation after the budget cuts.The poor economy and declining sales revenues were cited as reasons for the cuts. I hope Virginians are able to mobilize resources and work with their legislators to prevent the wholesale elimination of the Commission. State councils and commissions for the arts can play a vital and key role in the community in boosting economic development, particularly for newer American communities.
I've spoken at length on this issue in the past for other states, but it bears repeating that a healthy engagement with the arts allows many refugee and immigrant communities opportunities to develop key transferable skills and mechanisms for expression and participation in our democracy.
These include technical skills, including technology and computer use, research, marketing, logistics and budgeting, public speaking and advocacy, events planning, networking and resource development, as well as obvious verbal and non-verbal language skills.
Economically, many artists contribute to the economic vitality of their states by accessing vendors for printing, space rental, food, transport, lodging and other services, including the development of festivals, concerts and exhibitions that attract both local and out-of-state visitors.
Socially, artists who assist youth programs such as those that can be funded by the Virginia Commission for the Arts can provide youth with key skills to avoid delinquency, gang involvement, and interpersonal violence. Quality artistic support can provide youth with means to meaningfully challenge themselves and to broaden their expressive palettes beyond "F* you!" or radical physical violence.
The state arts commissions and councils also provide ways for new Americans whose stories are not yet part of the mainstream narrative to document and record their histories and to safely discuss subjects that are deeply meaningful to them.
It hasn't always been perfect in the Midwest, even in Minnesota, but a robust support of the arts brings many immediate and long-term benefits for states that are worth examining and fostering. I hope Virginia realizes this and makes all reasonable efforts to keep opportunities alive for their artists and their residents.