I know I touched on this subject before in this blog and I mentioned it in my commentary in the Jan. 09 issue of Carolina Arts, but I’m going into this puzzling situation in some detail, and that takes more space than I’ll ever have in the paper.
Now, the claim from these two entities is that they are both separate organizations. The SC Arts Commission is a SC State arts agency and the SC Arts Foundation is a separate arts non-profit – independent of each other.
But here’s part of the picture of reality. The SC Arts Foundation has a separate board – made up of members – some of whom are SC Arts Commission board members, past board members, and staff members of the Arts Commission. The Arts Foundation’s only known contact is an employee of the SC Arts Commission – Rusty Sox. And, if you want to call the Arts Foundation, you have to call the SC Arts Commission.
That’s what they call being totally independent – while at the same time they are dependent on the Arts Commission for almost everything I can find out about them. I’m sure their records are kept at the Arts Commission’s office in Columbia, SC. In fact, pretty much the only information you can find about the SC Arts Foundation is posted on the SC Arts Commission’s website. So when the Arts Foundation says it has forged a strategic partnership with the Arts Commission – you can bank on that.
This is what is posted on the SC Arts Commission’s website.
The SCAF has forged a strategic partnership with the S.C. Arts Commission, the state’s government arts agency, linking its mission to the Arts Commission’s goals of :
* Artist development
* Arts education
* Community development through the arts
While operating independently of one another, the partnership between these two key statewide organizations allows them to maximize resources and realize the greatest impact from programming and financial support statewide. Working with the S.C. Arts Commission, the SCAF has helped advance the arts in South Carolina in some significant ways:
* Funding artist training and development through Artist Fellowships.
* Designating proceeds from Driven by the Arts license plate sales to benefit in-school artist residencies and other arts education programs in schools and communities across the state.
* Purchasing new work for the State Art Collection – the state’s growing collection of contemporary South Carolina visual art.
* Recognizing outstanding achievement in the arts through its support of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner/Governor’s Awards for the Arts.
* Providing exhibition and sales opportunities for South Carolina’s visual artists with the Verner Art Sale.
* Giving the private and business communities an opportunity to support the statewide growth of the arts through tax-deductible contributions.
This is what the SC Arts Foundation’s stated purpose is. But due to State budget cuts, the SC Arts Commission announced that it would suspend adding to the State Art Collection this year and cancel the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner/Governor’s Awards for the Arts, the awards luncheon and the Verner Art Sale. That’s three of the Arts Foundation’s six functions. Leaving – funding the Artist Fellowships, deciding where funds go from license plate sales to arts education and taking in donations from the private and business community.
Let’s take the license plate sales out of the picture. I have no problem with this program – arts education needs all the funding it can get, but this program can’t put a lot of burden on the Arts Foundation.
Then there is the Artist Fellowships – six a year at $5,000 a pop – unless that has been cut this year too – which amounts to $30,000. Again, not a big burden for the Art Foundation (more about that later).
That leaves taking in donations from the private and business communities.
If I was an arts group in the non-profit arts community in South Carolina – I’d have a problem with this part of the SC Arts Foundation. You’re in competition with an organization and its twin agency, the SC Arts Commission, to secure money from the only other group – other than government agencies. And they’re the ones giving out awards to those who support the arts (business and private sector). To whom would you rather give money – a group who will give you their unending thanks, until next year – or the group who can give you statewide recognition in the form of a major award – even though no one is getting an award this year. Frankly, with all the non-profit arts groups in SC, I think there are plenty of opportunities for businesses and private individuals to support the statewide growth of the arts through tax-deductible contributions – who needs another one to do it for them?
So here’s a couple of big questions to wonder about. Why is the SC Arts Commission cutting from its budget three of the six functions of the SC Arts Foundation and what will the Arts Foundation be doing with half of its purpose for being – shut down this year? I mean what are they going to be spending their time doing – concentrating on collecting more donations?
Well, I know they now have set up a way to take electronic donations on – the SC Arts Commission’s website. I would wonder if there is some State law about that???
So what kind of money are we talking about anyway? Not sure. I’m sure there is someplace where the SC Arts Foundation has to register an Annual Report as a non-profit, but it’s not offered with all the other info about them that exist on the Arts Commission’s website. But this is what I found on the website of the Office of the Secretary of State for SC.
South Carolina Arts Foundation, 1989 (that’s the year they registered with the Secretary of State)
Patrick Van Huss, CEO
c/o South Carolina Arts Commission
1800 Gervais St.
Columbia, SC 29201
Exemption Status: Registered: Information from this organization’s annual financial report is listed below.
The following is financial information that has been provided to the Office of the Secretary of State by the above-named organization. Figures are for the organization’s fiscal year 7/1/2007 – 6/30/2008.
TOTAL REVENUE: $271,688.00
PROGRAM EXPENSES: $205,301.00
TOTAL EXPENSES: $211,209.00
According to the financial information filed with this office, this organization devoted 97.2% of its total expenses to program services during the year reported.
That’s the info they provided to the Secretary of State.
First off I want to take exception to the statement made above where the Arts Foundation says in their own description – “these two key statewide organizations” – spending $200,000 doesn’t make you a “key” statewide organization – even in this small state. That’s way, way under expense levels of many of SC’s nonprofit arts organizations – even some artist guilds. What makes them so key with so little money? Maybe it’s who they are attached to?
You’ll notice that there was a $5,908 difference between the Foundation’s program expenses and total expenses. Can this be a fee paid to the Arts Commission or to Rusty Sox? Don’t know. You should also notice that for that fiscal year the Arts Foundation had a left over amount of $60,479.
Now if we subtract the $30,000 for the Artists Fellowships ($5,000 each for six awards) for this year (the only financial obligation left them this year) – even if the Arts Foundation didn’t take in any donations this year – that leaves a remaining $30,000 plus some change.
Like I said before, we’re not counting money taken in for license plates – that is going to art education projects anyway, so there is no need to factor that money into anything. It should already be factored into their programing expenses.
They are not putting any money into purchasing works for the State Art Collection – so the only other expense left was the Verner Awards. And of course the big awards luncheon – a.k.a. – the big party.
The Verner Awards amount to seven awards a year and not knowing how much those statues cost, you have to wonder if the real problem this year was that there wasn’t enough money left for the big party. Could this be why these awards were cut? ($30,000 divided by 7 = $4,285. Do you think they are paying that much for those statues? Don’t know. But, I’m not really sure why these awards were cut – again from the Arts Commission’s budget – when the Arts Foundation says it pays for this program.
Besides seven entities not getting the recognition this year – artists, art administrators, business supporters, etc. – the other victims here are the artists who used to sell works at the luncheon. And, of course the Governor of SC – since these are supposed to be his awards. Maybe there is more to this cut than money. After all the Governor did call for the cuts to the Commission’s budget. Of course he could have given them an exemption to budget cut, so maybe this is payback. Who knows? It’s just something to think about.
Well it’s not hard to believe that this year it is harder for the Arts Foundation to pull in donations from SC’s private and business communities, but it is just as hard to believe that the Foundation hasn’t taken in any donations since July of 2008. But we won’t know that until the Arts Foundation files their 7/1/2008 – 6/30/2009 fiscal year financial info with the Secretary of State. And that won’t be until near the end of 2009 – if that. These non-profits don’t always file on time.
The point of all this is – what, if anything, does purchases for the State Art Collection and the Verner Awards have to do with reducing the SC Arts Commission’s budget – when funding for these programs are supposed to be provided by the SC Art Foundation? I can understand that if the Foundation’s revenues are down or nonexistent that their programs would have to be stopped, but how does cutting these two things reduce the Arts Commission’s budget – because they were listed by the Arts Commission as ways they were reducing their budget.
It’s a puzzle. A real puzzle.
Now, I don’t spend a lot of time pondering this puzzle, but I’m sure I spend more time on it then these two groups would like. But it makes you wonder what is going on here.
Did the Arts Commission just pad their list of where they would be making cuts to their budget? Don’t know. I do know we’ll never see a detailed flow of expenses by either organization.
It’s just another couple of items we’ll never know about the SC Arts Commission.
Like suspending purchases of art for the State Art Collection. Is this really a cut? I haven’t seen any info about these purchases for several years. I checked the Arts Commission’s archive of press release – back to Aug. 2005 and there was no mention of art purchases. Looking at the Arts Commission’s website where they post info about the collection – all 441 works – I couldn’t find but a couple of works with dates in 2006 and only one with a date of 2007. Of course they could have purchased a shipload of works that were produced in previous years, but you would think they would at least brag about it – they’re not usually shy about bragging about what they do or what they provide to the citizens of South Carolina.
Of course this is another responsibility of the Arts Commission’s busy Visual Arts Coordinator – unless the Arts Foundation really does have something to do with this program. But my guess is that this is a failing program the Arts Commission is trying to keep quiet about. That’s why it been under the radar of public information for some years now. There never was much public disclosure about the program anyway.
Let’s revisit those fiscal year 7/1/2007 – 6/30/2008 financial figures. The Arts Foundation reported that they spent $205,301 on programs. Take out the $30,000 for the Artists Fellowships – that leaves $175,301. The only other things the Arts Foundation says it funds is purchases for the State Art Collection, money from license plates to arts education, and the Verner Awards – and of course the luncheon – or what I like to call the big party.
If we divide the remaining funds by 3 that gives $58,433 to each of those three programs. But… $58,433 seems a little high as revenue coming in from license plates. If you buy a plate from the Arts Commission at $170 each – they only had 200, that equals $34,060) and the highway department sells them for $70 – that would equal 349 people buying license plates. There are not that many people who support the arts in SC and we’re a small state. I don’t think 349 people purchased Driven by the Arts license plates that year.
$58, 433 would purchase a very nice piece of art for the State Art Collection – if they did buy anything during that fiscal period. But, we don’t know.
And, $58,433 seems like it would buy seven Verner Awards and throw a very nice luncheon – which most people have to purchase an expensive ticket to attend.
If you take out any large purchase of art for the State Collection and say maybe 200 people purchased license plates – that would leave a lot of money for the Verner Awards. But, it’s hard to imagine that they were spending nearly $100,000 for those seven awards and that luncheon. Isn’t it – or is it?
Other than the $30,000 for the Artists Fellowships, speculating where the other $175,301 the Arts Foundation spent during that year is – well speculation. But we do know they spent the money on something. And, I guess we know that the Arts Foundation or the Arts Commission doesn’t have that money this year to spend on these programs.
We also know that the Arts Foundation has had 50 percent of its stated function reduced. Or do we – remember the Arts Commission is claiming these programs as reductions to their budget.
It’s so confusing.
The fact is we do know that those people and organizations who received funding support from the SC Arts Commission took a 25 percent cut – due to mandated State budget cuts – 14 percent right away and the remainder being held in reserve by the Arts Commission – just in case more cuts are called for – and they are being called for as I write this. But I, for one, am not really sure what kind of cuts the Arts Commission is really taking themselves. This business of listing cuts that are supposedly funding provided by the SC Arts Foundation leaves me wondering how up front the Arts Commission is being with us and the State. It’s not the first time I have had a lack of trust for info provide by the Arts Commission and I’m sure it’s not going to be the last.
I also don’t like the fact that a State employee is working for a private non-profit – strategic partnership or not. Is this the only case? I think not. There have been other instances where services have been rendered to a few that are not really being offered to all. Like helping law firms find art for their offices.
But, when you’re a small State agency (small in terms of total budget) you don’t get a lot of oversight. You just don’t concern State auditors or legislators. You’re pocket change in their view.
And, don’t even think about a newspaper like The State investigating these puzzling items. They’re being supportive of the arts and besides they’ve received a Verner Award for their support of the arts.
And, all I can do is deliver a little sting occasionally – like a no-see’um. You know, those little pesky bugs near the marsh. I’m just giving people something to think about. And, I hope they do.
P.S. We have now learned that the SC Budget and Control Board has issued a 7 percent across-the-board cut to state agencies in addition to cuts passed earlier this fiscal year.
Here’s what the SC Arts Commission’s answer is to this call for cuts. “To implement this most recent cut, the agency will: Increase the number of mandatory staff furlough (unpaid leave) days from four to seven; Reduce most current (FY09) grants by an additional 4 percent, bringing the total cumulative grant reduction for most grantees to 18.2 percent; and Continue to reserve 25 percent of original grant awards pending additional mid-year cuts. This latest cut brings the cumulative total cut to the agency’s budget for FY 2009 to 23.9 percent. The agency continues to do everything it can internally to reduce costs while maintaining service to constituents.”
I don’t care how you say it – if you are holding 25 percent of grant monies from organizations in reserve that’s a 25 percent cut. Three more days of unpaid leave still leaves all their staff members with a job and full benefits. SCETV, SC’s public TV and Radio network laid off 43 employees – now that’s an internal cut. Saying you’re taking a 23.9 percent cut while everyone else has taken a 25 percent cut doesn’t exactly make everyone think the agency is doing everything it can to reduce costs while maintaining service to constituents. I’m not buying that and I don’t think their constituents are either, and I know the people they don’t serve think it’s justice finally served, but they don’t see where the pain is. I can’t find it either.