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Cut in state arts spending will backfire, critics warn


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POSTED: Sunday, August 30, 2009

A coalition of arts organizations has warned Gov. Linda Lingle that planned cuts in the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts staff will actually cost the state money.

Thousands of schoolchildren, participants in community cultural programs and island artists will be affected if 10 employees are laid off, the Hawai'i Arts Alliance said in a Thursday letter to Lingle.

“;The proposed cuts will virtually gut the agency and will decimate the arts community,”; wrote Marilyn Cristofori, chief executive officer of the alliance of nonprofit groups.

The layoffs represent one-third of the foundation staff and include Executive Director Ron Yamakawa. The small agency is part of the executive branch, administered by the Department of Accounting and General Services.

Arts advocates said the reduced work force will jeopardize the state's ability to bring in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and other federal agencies, as well as private grants. More than $1 million in federal aid and arts grants came to Hawaii last year. More than $7 million has been generated over the past five years for Arts First education programs, according to Hawai'i Arts Alliance.

Last year 2,357 people who created, performed or taught in arts projects were paid $1,082,638 by the Culture and Arts Foundation, the alliance said.

“;The sad thing is that people will see a gradual decline in opportunities for artists, which are already so limited in this state,”; said Rich Richardson, creative director of Arts at Mark's Garage. “;Often artists cobble together a living from several sources and this makes it another step harder. It will chip away at the arts ecosystem.”;

Peter Rosegg, a member of the foundation's board of directors, said the nine-member commission of community representatives is “;monitoring the situation”; and doesn't want to “;increase the panic.”;

“;We hope to continue grants programs, education programs in schools. Our programs contribute an essential arts aspect to the education of our children,”; he said.

But, said Rosegg in a statement on behalf of the board, “;We also appreciate that every state agency and all employees are facing considerable uncertainty and difficult decisions.”;

Yamakawa and state Comptroller Russ Saito did not respond to requests for comment.