Take back everything I have said about the SC Arts Commission being forced to live with the reality of an economy that can’t support their pet projects anymore. The check is in the mail. Just like with AIG, get ready to learn about the silly and needless ways SC’s non-profit arts community uses (possible funding) provided by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act which provides $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), to fund projects and activities that preserve nonprofit arts sector jobs threatened by the current economic downturn.
We as taxpayers will be funding the distribution of this $50 million throughout America’s art community to protect jobs – not create jobs. And most of the money is only available to those who have already received funding in the past from the NEA – a very small group of organizations in SC.
Of course all this money has to be applied for, but my past experience with how the NEA awards money and verifies how it is used gives me no confidence that this money will be used in a sound and needed way. The fact that it can only go to previous recipients means their is no plan or vision for recovery of all of the art community. It’s more a protection plan for the current and past players – whether they were good stewards of public funding to begin with.
I saw what happened with recovery money provided by the NEA after Hurricane Hugo hit SC. The City of Charleston held on to money years after the money was supposed to be used, unknown to the NEA, and in violation of several federal laws, and eventually had to give it back – instead of really giving it to artists and art organizations who could have used it – at the time of the disaster. This kind of money tends to go toward pet projects of the people holding it. In talking with officials at the NEA about this event I learned they have no enforcement division, they trust recipients to file truthful reports as to how the money was used. There is no follow-up. And, in the end, the NEA just said match the money and use if for – whatever. But, the Office of Cultural Affairs and the Mayor Riley didn’t want to make the effort to raise the matching dollars and just sent it back.
Don’t forget, this recovery money can only be used for non-profits. To hell with helping any commercial parts of the art community that have suffered or are suffering. And, to top it off, this money has to be matched with other money and where will those non-profits look for help in raising that matching money? Why of course their favorite cash cow – the commercial sector of the art community. They’ll ask artists and galleries to donate works of art for auctions, frame shops to donate services, media to provide free promotion for such events. It’s usually the first place they go to raise funds. Corporate money for the arts has dried up. Matching free money is a bitch because you have to get someone to give you an equal amount, and that takes work. These people like free money. Wouldn’t you?
Of course $50 million is such a small amount of money to people in Washington that they didn’t put a lot of thought into what they were doing. Someone probably just suggested as they were writing up the massive bill – “What about the arts?” and they just relied on old habits of throwing them a bone and leaving it up to the NEA to do the right thing.
This is not the kind of change I was hoping for, but hopefully time will still provide that change from doing the same old, same old. Of course maybe Governor Sanford will tell the SC Arts Commission to send it back. Right!
Oh, and you folks in North Carolina – don’t laugh, your state arts agency will be getting a check too. And, it also will possibly go to the same folks who have already gotten funding from the NEA.