The Arts and the "New Virginia Economy"

Virginia Democrats celebrated huge victories after high voter participation and a sudden Democratic surge locked up several key offices in Richmond.  Exit polls showed healthcare and guns were at the top of list of concerns for VA voters.  I don’t blame Virginia voters for focusing solely on the “sexy” issues, but my concern as a musician, former music student, and arts professional led me to what might be a niche issue, but one that is much broader than most voters realize. That issue is support for the arts in Virginia as reflected in the current funding levels of the Virginia Commission for the Arts.  

Arts and culture are central to Virginia’s economy.  Arts organizations in the Commonwealth enrich the lives of Virginians and play an important role in attracting tourism, in building Virginia's communities, in fueling economic growth, and in the education of Virginia's students.  Sadly, state funding for the arts in Virginia has been cut by over 40% since 2008 and the Commonwealth has fallen to 40th in per capita state arts spending in the nation. The Virginia Commission for the Arts (VCA), Virginia’s state arts agency, ranks far below each the per capita funding levels of each of the agencies in neighboring states (District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia) at 41 cents per capita.

 

Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) has proven that the arts play critical role in what he calls the “New Virginia Economy." For example, Governor McAuliffe awarded 13 transportation and tourism matching grants in both of the previous two years (2016 and 2017) to arts organizations across the Commonwealth and many more throughout his tenure as Governor.  These grants are designated to support vital programs at arts organizations and even a number of arts related initiatives in marketing and design at non-arts organizations.

This kind of implicit support, let alone any explicit support of Virginia politicians, does not explain or justify the drastic reduction of funding to our state's arts commission over the course of the last decade.  If anything, it should prove that the arts intersects with a number of industries and initiatives throughout the Commonwealth with a last impact on the economy.  Without this funding, Virginia will be unable to leverage the arts at it's fullest potential while also losing a competitive advantage to neighboring states. 

The VCA has experienced budget cuts under Republican and Democratic Governors, but most notably under strong Republican majorities in the legislative branch.  Democrats did make huge gains on Election Day with a sweeping victory in the Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General elections, in addition to a number of elections for the Virginia House of Delegates.  The final results in the House are still unknown due to a number of recounts, but it is my hope that Democrats are more likely and willing to display stronger support for Arts funding considering these gains.

Everyone in Virginia can help make the arts a priority over the next four years by doing the following:

  • Sign this petition from Virginians for the Arts to demand a restoration in state arts funding to the Virginia Commission for the Arts
  • Call and write the Governor’s Office to express your support for Arts funding in Virginia so they can prioritize funding for the VCA in the next legislative session.
  • Also call and write your State Delegate and Senator 
  • Attend Virginia Arts Advocacy Day in Richmond on February 1, 2018.
  • Continue to raise these issues at all levels of government by asking questions at town halls, forums, and in community meetings.