A crusade to slash state funding for the arts has been largely rejected by the Legislature this year, but some GOP lawmakers vow to try again.
“We were very fortunate this session,” said Karen Kamara Gose, director of the Washington State Arts Commission.
The main target of cost-conscious lawmakers was the Art In Public Places Program, which sets aside 0.5 percent of state construction project budgets to pay for original artwork. That amounted to $2 million during the last two years.
Critics question whether the state should spend construction dollars on art, especially in prisons and schools. But attempts to eliminate the spending failed in the Legislature.
They’ll be back, said Rep. Larry Crouse, R-Spokane, who helped lead the charge against state spending on art. He sponsored bills that would have eliminated the State Arts Commission as well as the Art In Public Places Program.
“I do not believe taxpayers should be giving grants to artists,” Crouse said.
Crouse predicted his efforts will be met with more support if the Republicans win control of the state Senate and the governor’s office in 1996.
The Republican-dominated House this year did approve a more modest approach sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Colville. That bill would have eliminated money set aside for art in prisons and school construction projects. It died in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The only major effort still alive this session is a move to trim the Arts Commission budget, which funds art projects around the state.
House Republicans want to cut the commission’s budget by nearly 12 percent, or $560,000, over the next two years. The Senate has proposed a 3 percent reduction, or about $160,000. The final cut will be decided in budget negotiations, now in their sixth week.
Such halfway attempts don’t go far enough for Crouse, who said government should confine itself to essentials like road maintenance and law enforcement.
“I just feel that if art is good enough, it will be successful in the private market,” Crouse said.
But sometimes even the best artists are not recognized in their time, said Glenn Mason, director of the Cheney Cowles Museum, which received $900,000 in state money last biennium.
“I think that history would say that’s not true. People like Monet sold very little while they were alive,” Mason said. “Now they’re selling for millions of dollars at auctions.”
While they may want to trim spending, many lawmakers are leery of ending all state support for art.
“I don’t think I would go that far,” said Rep. Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor, chairman of the House Capital Budget Committee. “I think there is a place for public involvement in things like the arts.”
By subsidizing artists, the government sends the message that what they do is valuable, said Rep. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.
“In order to show my child that I care about art, I put his art on my refrigerator,” Brown said. “If our society values art, we need to put it out in public where people can see it.”