Arts foundation layoffs imperil federal funding


POSTED: Monday, September 21, 2009

Leaders from arts organizations across the state say the loss of 10 employees — about one-third the staff — at the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts would be a destructive move that jeopardizes not just arts programs, but the economy and education as well.

From the smallest arts outfits to established museums like the Honolulu Academy of Arts, which receives funding for educational outreach programs, all levels of the arts community will feel the impact if Gov. Linda Lingle's cuts are realized.

The layoffs would save the state about $500,000 in the face of an $800 million shortfall, though critics say the move would actually cost the state millions of dollars in the long run.

The primary threat is the elimination of positions that enable the state to receive and distribute more than $1 million from the National Endowment for the Arts and other federal funds.

“;The NEA has very clear legal requirements for a designated arts agency to receive federal funds,”; says Marilyn Cristofori, chief executive officer of Hawaii Arts Alliance, a nonprofit arts advocacy organization. “;It's part of NEA's partnership agreements with all 50 states. We do know that if our state agency is in jeopardy and can't meet some of that criteria, we won't receive those federal funds.”;





        A 2008 study from Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit organization, found:

» Hawaii has 3,180 arts-related businesses that employ 12,662 people


» The nonprofit arts is a $220 million-plus industry that plugs revenue into local restaurants, hotel, stores, parking garages and other businesses




Hawaii Craftsmen, a nonprofit group that promotes fine arts statewide, estimates it will suffer a 20 percent budget cut if its grant from the state foundation doesn't come through.

“;That's significant,”; says Rose Anne Jones, who serves as executive director. “;With just 1 1/2 paid staff, we can't get everything done as it is. ... We're small, but we provide consistently valuable programs year after year after year.”;

Cristofori says she and others from the arts community had a two-hour meeting with the governor's office a few days ago to share their concerns and provide information.

In 1965, the state Legislature passed Chapter 9, requiring adherence to NEA criteria. Those requirements include supporting arts education and folk, cultural and community arts; at a staffing level, it requires an executive director. Yet among the staff given layoff notices, slated for Nov. 20, was Executive Director Ronald Yamakawa.

“;If federal money comes in, it's our duty to be able to disseminate those funds,”; says Allison Wong, interim director at the Contemporary Museum and former director of the foundation's Art in Public Places program. “;These cuts are jeopardizing our ability to do that. It would be a disaster, to tell you the truth.”;

The governor's office did not respond to calls for comment.

NEA funds are awarded on a matching basis, which means they multiply what the state awards as grants to the community. Last year, $249,000 from the state's general fund brought in $1.275 million in NEA funds, providing several hundred small biennium grants to Hawaii's arts community.

A survey by the Arts Alliance estimates that using the grants to generate more funds—ticket sales, for example, or attracting other matches from private, national and local sources—leveraged about $28 million in revenue last year.

The state arts foundation is part of the executive branch, under the jurisdiction of the Department of Accounting and General Services, which has served 138 employees with layoff notices. Within the department, 12 divisions and agencies were affected, though just five, including the foundation, have been hit with such drastic cuts.

Russ Saito, who heads the department, said layoffs are the only alternative the state has unless public worker unions agree to Lingle's furlough proposals. “;We do not want to lay off anyone,”; he said. “;We appreciate the value the (foundation) adds to our culture and will minimize, as much as we can, any negative effects on its grants and programs of the fiscal constraints we are faced with.”;

Sen. Carol Fukunaga is among a group of lawmakers concerned about the layoffs, and she's in the process of scheduling a hearing to learn more.

“;We have a similar situation at DBEDT (the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism), with similar concerns,”; said Fukunaga (D, Lower Makiki-Punchbowl). “;There are a number of programs with relatively small numbers of staff. It's like at the film office, where they generate quite an amount of money for the state and help small businesses as well.”;

At the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Education Director Suzanna Browne says grants administered by the state foundation support the education of both students and teachers.

“;We've taken teachers through the process of doing their own research, so they get good at assessing their own process of what they're doing for kids,”; Browne says.

For students, Brown says, “;we hold Can Do Day, where students can come and spend the whole day at the MACC, three times a year. Entire classes learn about visual art, dance and drama from professional teaching artists. We service more than 6,000 kids a year—we travel it to Hana, Molokai and Lanai. For some students, this is the only art they get for the entire school year.”;

On the Big Island, the East Hawaii Cultural Council houses a performance space and large gallery where up to 30 events are held each year in dance, music and visual arts. Dennis Taniguchi, its executive director, says he's not sure what would happen if state foundation grants stopped coming.

“;It's such a vital part of funding neighbor island programs,”; he says. “;It's THE major funding source for our council.”;

In addition to providing funding, the institutional knowledge of the state foundation is irreplaceable, says Carol Yotsuda of the Garden Island Arts Council on Kauai.

“;The agency was started in the 1960s, and it's grown and shaped to meet the needs in Hawaii,”; she says. “;It's become responsive to the way the arts work in Hawaii.”;