HAZARD — Late last week rumors of Gov. Bevin cutting funding for the Kentucky Arts Council began circulating through social media. The Lexington Herald-Leader and the Courier Journal gave weight to this topic by publishing reports about the rumors over the weekend. Neither newspaper denied the possibility that the rumors could be true. Although it is still unknown at the time this article is being published whether or not Gov. Bevin does indeed plan to cut the KAC, several groups in the Mountain Region are worried about the effects such an action could have on arts related projects in their communities.
To fully grasp the consequences of terminating the Kentucky Arts Council, a community must first understand what the Kentucky Arts Council does. Basically, the KAC awards grants to nonprofits, schools and local governments for arts related projects. The Kentucky Arts Council also extends support for Kentucky artists, provides apprenticeships for artists in training and helps promote art in the commonwealth.
One of the most popular grants awarded by KAC is the yearly partnership fund, which is given to nonprofit entities in Kentucky that help produce and promote art. For 2015, the overall amount awarded by the partnership fund was $1,417,422, which is an impressive number. However, the dollar amount alone is not what makes the partnership fund important. This grant is unique because it is offered as support for operational funds. Operational funds consist of money given to an organization with no strings attached. The organization receiving the funding is free to use that money for payroll, or bill payments, or renovations to their facilities; whatever they need.
Grants to support operational costs are few and far between in modern times. These days, most grant providers want a specific element of work in return for their funding. In other words, a grant provider might give an arts organization in Hazard $10,000, but in return, the grant provider wants the receiving organization to use that $10,000 to fund materials for arts education classes that will be offered to local elementary students. Although arts education programs can be extremely beneficial to a community, at the end of the day, the organization offering the program still has to pay an electric bill and meet payroll in order for the program to continue. Operational funding can serve as a determining factor in whether or not an arts organization survives for another year.
According to the KAC yearly report, out of the nearly 1.5 million dollars granted from the 2015 partnership fund, 1,581 jobs were supplied, which generated $1,455,159 in state tax revenue. In the Perry, Leslie, Breathitt, Letcher and Knott region, the Kentucky Arts Council granted $65,439 in funds during 2015. Taking these numbers into account, the dollars granted to this general area by the Kentucky Arts Council partnership fund assured the continuation of approximately 59 jobs in 2015, statistically speaking.
Those arguing in favor of state budget cuts concede that, regardless of what program loses government funding, jobs will also be lost in the process and, with the restraints of a reseeding economy, the cuts must come from somewhere. The Kentucky Arts Council is quick to point out, however, that the state’s expenditures in KAC funding generate profits for the state, which exceed the dollar amount spent. Thus, cutting the KAC will in all actuality cost the state money in terms of income tax generated from the jobs and sales tax generated from the retail activity of those employed by the organizations which depend on the Kentucky Arts Council’s partnership fund. With the possibility looming of Hazard developing its status as a river trail town and a new Arts Station in the works on Main Street, all of these factors become food for thought as our citizens weigh the actions of our state government during the waxing months of 2016.
Kentucky’s budget, including any additions or cuts, will be placed before the General Assembly, which is currently in session. Should the Kentucky Arts Council lose its funding, Kentucky will become the only state in America without a government supported arts organization.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 and on Twitter @HazardHerald.