These are strange times in the arts business in Louisiana and across our nation. In speaking to legislators, I am often amazed by their knowledge of the arts, and by the level of passion they carry for it. Ask them about the importance of art and culture in our communities and the need for supporting it, and they will absolutely agree. Discuss culture's contribution as a community builder and economic driver, and they understand. Talk about the creative workforce (140,000 strong in Louisiana) as the engine that cranks tourism in our state, and legislators get it.
And yet, ask those same officials in Baton Rouge or Washington to put money behind this and invest in our culture, which produces so much good with so little, and you will most likely hear evasive statements and mumblings of being broke or of other, higher priorities.
We are faced with a very real threat: the potential demise of the NEA, NEH, LPB, Louisiana's NPR stations — impacting most every part of Louisiana cultural life, from festivals to symphonies, from museums to community centers, from classes for the elderly and disadvantaged to local artists. Already almost half of the arts organizations in this country operate at a deficit, struggling to stay afloat while providing critical services.
The trickle-down effect of proposed federal cuts will hit small states and rural areas the most. Already, the state of Louisiana has virtually eliminated arts funding, and arts grants such as the Decentralized program are being kept on life support with transfer dollars from other departments. We have heard for years that we should do more with less, focus on collaboration and operate like a business. We have done all of this and more, only to realize that without funding, we are working against the tide.
This is a time when we need to take a stand and demand more. This is a time when we need to say: enough. Yes, we must invest in cultural infrastructure, just as we must invest in physical infrastructure. This is an easy investment, as it returns $7 for $1 to the tax coffers by the end of each fiscal year, and generates on average $24 for $1 in local economic stimulus. Yes, we can afford federal funding for the arts, which currently accounts for 0.02% of federal spending or roughly 37 cents per citizen/year. Yes, even Louisiana — especially Louisiana — must invest in its culture, because it is our natural resource, preserves heritage, builds community and prosperity.
executive director, Acadiana Center for the Arts