Funding the Arts Doesn’t Cost, It Pays!

It’s well known that nonprofit arts organizations contribute a great deal to the state economy, but a study funded by the Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation has finally come up with a hard number: $880 million. The figure was calculated by the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand using data collected primarily from two sources: grant applicants to the Illinois Arts Council and a random survey of Chicago museum visitors. Based on the grant applications of the 2,000 arts groups that annually apply for Arts Council funding, the firm determined arts groups generate $315 million in direct spending in the state, creating an economic impact of $699 million. The firm also surveyed out-of-state visitors at Chicago museums, determined that 17 percent of them came here specifically for arts-related purposes, and used that figure, along with data from the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, to determine that primarily culture-oriented tourists generate $94 million in direct spending in the state and create an economic impact of $181 million.

The $880 million figure, a combination of the visitor-spending figure and the $699 million impact of the arts groups, clearly indicates that the arts have economic heft, but the question remains: do they have enough clout to influence the Illinois state legislature, which has steadily chopped away at the state’s already meager arts support over the past six years? In fiscal 1991 the Illinois Arts Council, which makes grants to not-for-profit arts groups and individuals statewide, received $10.7 million in state funding; in the current fiscal year it received $5.5 million.

According to Alene Valkanas, executive director of the Illinois Arts Alliance, Illinois is one of only 11 states that have recently decreased arts funding. With its Republican majority, the state legislature seems to be keeping in step with the one in Washington, where appropriations committees in both the House and Senate have slashed the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts from approximately $167 million to just under $100 million and are talking seriously about eliminating the endowment within the next several years.

Some maintain, however, that studies such as the just-completed arts economic-impact report may be able to sway government leaders to support arts funding before it’s too late. Valkanas believes the economic data should be used to continually remind state legislators that cuts in arts funding affect unemployment. “Jobs are lost when funding is cut,” she says. The Arts Alliance Foundation report indicates there are 20,900 jobs in the Illinois not-for-profit arts sector. Another study of commercial and noncommercial arts organizations revealed that Democratic state legislator Judy Erwin’s north-side 11th District has 19,441 arts-related jobs, the most in the state. Erwin says, “It’s my hope that with studies like this we can change the perception of what jobs in the arts are about.”

Even with bottom-line logic suggesting that state government should rally behind the arts, the economic-development defense may take a backseat to the philosophical debate on the proper role of the government in funding the arts. Illinois Arts Alliance lobbyist Larry Suffredin says, “The conservative trend will be a hard one to work against.”

Behind the Joffrey Decision

Last week’s news about the collapse of merger talks between the Joffrey Ballet and Ballet Chicago didn’t surprise anyone who’d been following the story for the past six months, but what was surprising were the markedly different ways in which the two organizations announced the failure of the merger. Members of Ballet Chicago’s negotiating team hit the streets first with a press release recounting the “philosophical differences” they believe led to the termination of merger talks. Their release said that Arpino Ballet of Illinois (the new name under which the Joffrey has incorporated in Illinois) wanted to “dictate the artistic direction as well as decisions regarding repertory, dancers and administrative staff for the merged company.” Another issue in dispute was the budget of the new company: Arpino Ballet negotiators were pushing for a budget twice what Ballet Chicago representatives had recommended. More tellingly, Ballet Chicago says Joffrey board members made a last-minute attempt to gain full control of the new board that would have governed the new company.

The Arpino Ballet press release mentioned only that a merger of the two companies would “severely compromise the artistic viability of each,” in the words of artistic director Gerald Arpino. Arpino Ballet board president David Kipper didn’t dispute the claims in the Ballet Chicago release. “We have the highest regard for Ballet Chicago,” he says, adding that while the Arpino Ballet may still decide to move to Chicago, it could wind up anywhere. If it does move to Chicago, the cash-strapped Arpino Ballet will have to compete for funding and audiences with Ballet Chicago, which has been struggling for years to expand its audience base and solve its financial woes.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chip Williams.