Posts Tagged ‘SC Legislature’

SC Arts Commission Saved Again, But Just Barely – the 2012 Version

Monday, July 30th, 2012


I think the first paragraph of the article written by Otis R. Taylor, Jr. in The State newspaper after the big rally says it all.

“The State House was under an umbrella of creativity Monday evening as hundreds of arts supporters met on the grounds to oppose Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of the South Carolina Arts Commission budget.”

You can read the whole article at this link (

Even Columbia’s Free Times newspaper reported that only “hundreds flocked to the State House for a colorful pro-arts rally”.

A Facebook event page was created, Rally for the Arts – Support the SC Arts Commission, which invited 13,327 Facebook members (people involved with the arts in SC) to join in, yet only 1,688 “claimed” they would show up at the rally, while 578 others said – maybe. Yet only hundreds showed up.

Some will say the weather kept people away, but if I was the Arts Commission I wouldn’t want to count on my fair-weather friends to save me again and again, as this battle over the Arts Commission’s future isn’t over.

The main point here is – the SC Arts Commission was never in real danger of being eliminated – it was all a bunch of political show.

Our Tea-Bagger Governor wants to eliminate the Arts Commission altogether, which is wrong, but the Legislature has other plans. The House lawmakers approved a bill that would have moved the Arts Commission into the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, much like the way North Carolina handles its arts agency, but the Senate did not vote on the bill. Hopefully that will happen this next session and the Arts Commission will be reorganized with a different mission, some different staff members, and hopefully not many of the Commission’s “rubber stamp” board members – if any.

The Governor claims that the Arts Commission’s overhead is too high and I hate to have to agree with her on that point. I couldn’t begin to explain what 20 staff members do on a daily basis at the Arts Commission. And, their expenses do seem to be out of whack for an agency with such a small budget – under $4 million this year. They even had to move the agency into cheaper digs this year to stay under the 30 percent overhead mandated last year by the Legislature. And, the Governor is not happy about the executive director, Ken May’s salary – $91,664 a year. Which does seem high for an agency with such a small budget.

I looked at some other SC State agency’s budgets and pay their executives get and I was a little surprised. Take the Sea Grant Consortium, which was also on the Gov’s chopping block. They have a $6 million budget, but their executive director is only making $83,408. This agency has the same number of employees, a bigger budget, but the top person makes less money.

The head of the Budget and Control Board makes $173,380, but that agency deals with almost $1/2 billion and the head of the Department of Transportation which deals in billions only makes $146,000. Wouldn’t you think an executive’s salary would have some relationship to their budget?

I’d say Ken May’s salary is a big part of the Arts Commission’s overhead – in relation to it’s budget. Is it too much? I know a smaller salary would mean more funding for arts projects.

I’ve heard some talk that the Legislature is thinking about an audit of the Arts Commission which may revel more about where the money is going. That might clear the air some, but I would prefer they get on with the business of re-organizing state government before our Governor comes up with some new ideas about pleasing her Tea Bag supporters. She might start giving the Arts Commission’s board the Darla Moore treatment.

So who showed up at the big rally? Mostly people from Columbia. And, I’m not surprised about that. They are close to the Arts Commission – a centralized agency based in Columbia with no branches in other areas of the state. These were the people who see the Arts Commission staff at their performances, their exhibits, and in the grocery stores and restaurants of Columbia.

Here’s an example of how Columbia oriented the control of the arts are in South Carolina. Take a look at the SC Arts Foundation who the Arts Commission is in “partnership” with – sharing address, staff and phone numbers, but are totally separate – so they say.

The South Carolina Arts Foundation Board of Directors 2011-2012

Michel G. Moore, Columbia, President
Debra Timmerman, Charlotte, Vice President
Childs Cantey Thrasher, Columbia, Vice President
Jeffry C. Caswell, Columbia, Treasurer
Victoria Hollins, Columbia, Secretary
Patrick R. Van Huss, Columbia, Immediate Past President
Miller G. Bannister, Columbia
Gloria M. Bell, Charleston
Maryanne Belser, Columbia
Jerelyn “Jeri” Boysia, Columbia
Eric Brown, Greenville
J. Ashley Cooper, Charleston
Fannie I. “Judy” Cromwell, Greenville
Beryl Dakers, Columbia
James M. Dedman, IV, Greenville
Chandra Foster, Fort Mill
Shani Gilchrist, Columbia
Sarah Lynn Hayes, Rock Hill – Ex Officio
Robert Hoak, Greenville
Pamela L. Jenkins, Columbia
Robin Leverton, Beaufort
Ken May, Columbia – Ex Officio (Non-Voting)
J. Michael McCabe, Columbia
Rhett Outten, Mt. Pleasant
Donna Pullen, West Columbia
Ruth Rast, Columbia
Peggy Reynolds, Beaufort
Elizabeth Sowards, Chapin – Ex Officio
Linda C. Stern, Columbia
Leo F. Twiggs, Orangeburg
Bhavna Vasudeva, Columbia
John Whitehead, Columbia

All but one officer is from Columbia. Out of 32 members, 18 are from Columbia (more than half the board), 4 are from Greenville, 3 from the Charleston area, 2 from the Rock Hill area, 2 from Beaufort, 1 from Orangeburg, 1 from Chapin, and 1 from Charlotte, NC (?). I’d like to hear the story of why one of the members lives in Charlotte, NC.

There are no members from North Charleston (3rd largest city in SC), Spartanburg, Aiken, Florence, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach, Sumter or any of the smaller communities in the state – other than Chapin, which is just outside of Columbia. Why are so many from Columbia?

Of course many of these same folks jump back and forth from the board of the Arts Commission to the board of the SC Arts Foundation – and back again. I can’t remember when a few of these folks haven’t been on one or the other of the boards.

It’s no wonder there weren’t rallies all over the state to save the Arts Commission or people traveling from far ends of the state to the rally in Columbia. The representation isn’t there for the whole state. And, for many around the state like me – we didn’t notice a thing different when the Arts Commission was shut down and won’t notice a thing now that their doors are open again. The Arts Commission isn’t there for us – they’re only there for non-profits and a few individuals.

South Carolina needs to continue to support the arts with our tax dollars, but we also need to shake things up and re-organize the arts structure in the state and change some of the faces in control. We are way behind our neighbor to the North in making the arts a productive part of our state’s economy (at the bank – not just on paper) – and not just thought of as a burden.

Let’s hope the Legislature does something soon.

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?

Thursday, June 30th, 2011


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 ( 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!