June 4, 2020

Dear Arizona artists, community partners, and representatives of arts organizations:

Earlier this week, we posted a statement articulating our commitment to anti-racist work. Our statement is brief because we are determined not to position theory ahead of learning, action, and increased accountability as a public institution. This is our focus.

At the same time, we know that those who work in and care about Arizona’s arts sector are experiencing intersecting public crises. Given the expanse of the challenges before you, we chose to slow some of our regular communications over the last few weeks, to make space for others’ voices in an increasingly noisy virtual space.

Today we are sending an update about our budget and programs because local news outlets are reporting on legislative budget outcomes and we preferred that you receive the information from us.

Background and budget update

In late 2019, we entered talks about next year’s budget with great optimism. As a public agency, we don’t negotiate directly for funding. But we were buoyed when Governor Ducey called for arts funding in his executive budget proposal, and bipartisan arts champions in the State Legislature were energized, with several pursuing legislation supporting dedicated and increased funding for the arts.

We thought that after 12 years, this might be the year that Arizona’s arts budget would return to pre-recession levels and be lifted out of the one-time, year-by-year funding cycle. We even thought that with more resources, this might be the year to open grants more broadly to neighborhood centers, science organizations, botanical gardens, and other community-led cultural organizations whose work isn’t exclusively arts-based but who are great partners to the arts and who offer valued places of belonging for Arizona residents. The COVID-19 crisis pressed pause on this progress.

With COVID-19 bearing down in March, the Arizona State Legislature passed a “skinny budget” for Fiscal Year 2021 with the intention of reconvening to consider more comprehensive legislation at a later date. No allocation for the arts was present in the skinny budget, and last week, the State Legislature ended its session without making additional adjustments.

Without a state funding allocation and our remaining state funding stream, the Arts Trust Fund, experiencing a decline (as it is dependent on business filing fees), the Arts Commission is projecting an overall budget contraction of at least $2.5 million from this year to next. This will be the largest, fastest contraction in the agency record; nothing in recession-era history even comes close.

What it could mean

The Arts Commission’s primary organizational grant program, the Community Investment Grant, which invests in about 200 Arizona organizations each year, cost $2.5 million to run this past year. Essentially there is no way to mount an organizational grant program that resembles the existing program with the kind of contraction we are projecting. Though we are prepared to consider all options, there isn’t enough funding left in the agency budget to make up the ground; the funds simply aren’t there.

Some of you will read this and say: My community depends on this support. My organization has received an Arts Commission grant every year for decades. This could be devastating as we try to keep people employed and respond to overwhelming and complex needs in our community.

We hear you, and we understand.

Which is why our team and board are working tirelessly to access resources, develop networks with other funders, and cultivate partnerships to support your work in new ways.

Where we go from here

You might have questions. To be clear, if the current budget outcome holds, it does not mean that funding will be unavailable—though substantial change will be required, with grants being fewer in number and far smaller than in previous years. With so many things in flux, at this time we can’t say with certainty what will happen to the FY2021 grant you had applied for or had been expecting, or how other programs will be affected.

Be assured that we will keep you posted as new information becomes available and that your wisdom will be centered as we reinvent our services, no matter the budget outcome.

In the meantime, know you are always welcome to reach out to anyone on our team for support, and please, take good care.

Jaime Dempsey, Executive Director