How the budget will impact us locally

Published 10:18 am Friday, April 28, 2017

By Wayne Andrews

Arts programs are a vital part of Oxford and Lafayette County. They shape our community, provide educational opportunities for our children and contribute to every resident’s quality of life.

The stability of many of these programs, however, is in jeopardy. The current proposed federal budget calls for an end to all funding for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), which, since its founding in 1965, has awarded more than 128,000 grants — totaling more than $5 billion — to national initiatives, art projects and partnership agreements. Forty percent of NEA funding is distributed through state arts commissions, allowing the residents to decide where to direct the funds.

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The elimination of funding for the NEA will impact Mississippi more than other states. That support reaches us locally through the work of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council (YAC). In 2016, funding from the NEA helped YAC support 320 days of community programming, distribute grants to various local arts programs, host a wide range of community events and create an entrepreneur program to stimulate jobs in the creative-based businesses.

If enacted, this cut would be resounding — impacting, not only YAC, but also the Oxford Film Festival, Thacker Mountain Radio, North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, our museums and various community organizations and festivals.

The effects do not end there. The arts are a major driver of tourism in Mississippi. Arts travelers are ideal tourists, staying longer and spending more to seek out authentic cultural experiences. YAC recently participated in an economic impact study through Americans for the Arts which will be released in June. The preliminary numbers show that over 222,000 people attended arts and cultural events in Lafayette County last year.

Already the impact is being felt. Operational and program funding due to be awarded for projects beginning in June have been placed on hold until the federal budget is resolved. This is funding local arts groups budgeted for a year ago to support daily operations, as well as the summer festivals and children’s camps that community members expect.

This goes beyond cutting one program or scaling back one event. The freezing of funds impedes community groups’ ability to support jobs, pay rent and purchase supplies.

Until the budget is resolved, organizations will have to turn away from their missions of providing services to focus instead on securing funds to sustain programs currently in place. Even that, however, will become more challenging, as grants and funding from private foundations have long lead times.

YAC, like many businesses, prepares a budget a year in advance. Our board established an endowment fund to sustain community programs and provide a reserve for the minor year-to-year variations in funding. We could face a $50,000 swing based on this funding freeze — that’s 10 percent of our budget. This would greatly exceed the revenue generated by our endowment fund.

Last year YAC launched a campaign — the ’72 Society — recognizing those who helped establish the Arts Council. The focus was to raise funds for our endowment over the next five years with a goal to build an endowment that could sustain the loss of a major funding source by the 50th anniversary of the Arts Council. It was a prudent move by our board to begin the process to ensure program stability. Unfortunately, the possibility of a major funding loss is occurring faster than anticipated.

Wayne Andrews is Director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.