Why Did the SC Legislature Pass a Law Making the SC Arts Commission Spend 70% of Its Funding on Grants to SC’s Art Community?

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So, why exactly did the SC Legislature have to pass a law demanding that the SC Arts Commission spend 70% of its state funding on grants? Why did they have to write that stipulation into law? Could it be that the Arts Commission was spending more on themselves than they were giving out in grants to other arts organizations?

Over the years I have pointed out that the SC Arts Commission, the cat with nine lives, was one of the largest state arts agencies in the country – much bigger than state art agencies in our region. Yes, they may be a lot leaner today than they used to be, but the Arts Commission is still a bloated agency which carries an expensive overhead. I’m led to understand that this 70% restriction will mean some folks at the Arts Commission will lose their jobs, which I feel sorry for, especially in these times, but this agency has brought all their current problems down on themselves.

Over my 25 + years in following the arts in this state I have always wondered what all these people are doing when I can see so little results in the general art community that they contribute – other than handing out money to their friends. They can go on and on in reports they write themselves, about all they are doing and what they have accomplished each year, and their fans – mostly people who receive funding and awards from them, will back up those self-preformed pats on their back.

Look, I’m for government funded art. You don’t see me railing against the NC Arts Council or the NEA. My problem is with the SC Arts Commission and their version of what serving the arts community means – serve yourself first – then the art community.

The truth is in the numbers. And, these are the latest numbers available from the SC Comptroller General’s office. These are some of the expenses of the SC Arts Commission – mostly their overhead in distributing funding to the people who do the real arts in our state. These numbers are from FY 2009-2010, not that long ago. Current numbers are not available – I wonder why.

Equipment – $5,076

Membership fees, rentals and rent – $347,565
(of which $268,507 is for rent of their building) I would have thought they could have purchased a building in the Vista years ago with that kind of rent.

Utilities – $42,869

Personal Services – $1,115,415
(On this item I know fewer people are there now working at the Arts Commission since 2009-2010, but here are some of the latest figures on salaries of just six employees who make over $50,000 – the limit where the State has to tell you what they’re being paid. This does not include State benefits.)

Figures as of May 13, 2011

Ken May – $91,664.00
Harriett Green – $55,284.00
Charles “Rusty” Cox – $54,596.00
Susan Duplessis – $51,854.00
Clay Burnett – $51,560.00
Joy Young – $50,609.00
(These six salaries total $355,567 and there could be 20 more people who make around $40,000.00 each if not more.)

Supplies & Materials – $23,997
($3,020 of that was postage, but I can’t imagine what they are mailing with the invention of e-mail.)

Transportation – $68

Travel – $27,568
(Now here’s a category that should be totally gone after last year’s cut-backs where the agency said it would do no more travel, but let’s see where some of this was going: $1,995 for in-state lodging; $10,441 for non-state employee travel; $903 for out of state lodging; $8,982 for leasing of state-owned cars; etc.)

The total of these expenses I’ve listed is $1,562,558.00. And, I didn’t list all the categories offered as I didn’t totally understand them, but that’s $1.5 million in overhead already – just to say we have an arts agency.

Salaries, rents and utilities don’t go away – so depending on what their budget allocation is from year to year (FY 2012 – the state budget for them is $1.9 million) it makes a big difference what’s left over each year, even when you throw in Federal monies, when so much has to come off the top on July 1 – every year. And, what do we get – an agency who decides who gets the rest of the money in the arts community or more like who won’t.

I think the SC Arts Commission has been consuming close to 50% of its budget by just existing.

The Arts Commission was also telling the public that it will also lose $250,000 the state appropriated last year in one-time stimulus funds, for a total year-to-year reduction of 16% in state appropriations. Again – they don’t seem to understand what a one-time thing is. You only get it once – you don’t get to then say the next year that  money is being cut from your budget this year. It was a one-time deal, get over it.

So in summation, I think the 70% clause was written into the law to force the SC Arts Commission to get lean like the rest of us have had to and make them spend the bulk of their budget on money for artists and arts groups – not themselves.

Don’t feel sorry for them yet, the alternative was no agency at all and they will still get their hands on $1.3 million from the Feds, which I’m sure has less restrictions on it. We all know how well the Federal government keeps track of our money.

So, the real question of the day is: Does the law mean that the SC Arts Commission has to make sure 70% of its total budget (including Federal money) has to go to grants or does it just mean 70% of what the State of SC has given them? And, what restrictions does the Federal money have on it? Where was it intended to go and to whom?

Because 30% of $1.9 million is $570,000 and the top six employees are paid $355,567 – that doesn’t leave enough to pay the rent on the building ($268,507) those six people would be rattling around in. So unless there is some slight of hand at work here or they can use that Federal money for whatever – there is either going to be a caretaker staff at the Arts Commission outnumbered by the Commissioners or the real arts providers in SC are going to get screwed again by the Arts Commission skimming off that Federal money.

And as long as the State of SC allows the Arts Commission to report on themselves without any audits – who’s to know where that money really goes.

I’m glad I’m not part of a non-profit that is hoping for a decent piece of the pie. If the next time you see someone from the Arts Commission and they have cherry pie all over their face – well, oh my.

The link to the SC Comptroller General’s office for the SC Arts Commission’s 2009 – 2010 expenses – their overhead before grants are given are at (https://ssl.sc.gov/SpendingTransparency/CategorySearchResult.aspx). Then just click Annual Summary and then select the year and the SC Arts Commission. You may even want to look back over time to see where all its money has been going.

No pie for you!

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