Phoenix, AZ (April 1, 2009) — Arizona arts organizations are feeling the effects of the economic downturn. In January 2009, the Arizona Commission on the Arts conducted a statewide survey to assess the effects of the changing economic winds on Arizona arts organizations. With Arizona in a deep recession and the second highest per-capita state budget shortfall in the nation, arts organizations are under intense pressure.
When Arizona nonprofit arts organizations were asked what actions they have taken or plan to take in order to manage the economic strain, 58% reported that they are cutting programs and services, 65% have enacted hiring freezes, and 38% are planning staff layoffs. 84% of the arts organizations surveyed confirmed that they are experiencing a significant decrease in contributions. Anecdotal evidence and conventional wisdom lead the Commission to expect that the percentage of organizations implementing layoffs and furloughs will increase sharply throughout fiscal year 2010.
Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Robert Booker, says, “Many arts organizations, like other industries, are in a state of crisis. If we lose them to closure…we lose their impact both in programs for our families and children, the tourists they draw, and the economic contributions they provide.” Arts and culture organizations in Arizona create numerous job opportunities for residents of the state. According to the Creative Industries Report by Americans for the Arts, Arizona is home to 12,000 arts-related businesses that employ 50,000 people across the state.

Arizona arts organizations are facing complex issues as they cope with the changing economy:

  • Free Arts of Arizona, an organization that provides critical services to thousands of abused, neglected and homeless children annually, has cut nearly 20% of their staff and has significantly reduced their operating budget. Free Arts of Arizona is a nonprofit organization that brings the healing powers of the creative arts to children by partnering with group homes, treatment centers and shelters in Maricopa County.
  • In January of 2009 the Arizona Museum for Youth, which operates as a public/private partnership between the City of Mesa and the Arizona Museum for Youth Friends, Incorporated, faced a 30% budget cut after the city experienced a serious decrease in sales tax. This, after the Museum dealt with a 50% budget cut only three years ago, left Executive Director, Sunnee Spencer, with no other choice but to lay off staff. Spencer says, “This will have a significant impact on the quality of services we are able to provide to our community members.” The Arizona Museum for Youth provides a creative place for families with children under the age of 4 to explore self-expression through interactive exhibits, classes and workshops. 
  •  To prepare for the current economic situation, The Bead Museum, located in Glendale, Arizona, cut their operating budget by 37% in part by eliminating and combining job positions to reduce labor costs. Kelly Norton, the museum’s Executive Director, says, “The bead museum is struggling as are most organizations these days. We are in jeopardy of closing our doors.” The Bead Museum is now the only bead museum that showcases beads and beaded artifacts from around the world. The loss of this invaluable institution would create a world-wide gap of historical and cultural significance.
  • Executive Director of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, Laura Kelly, says that many of their supporters are unable to make a contribution but continue to demonstrate their commitment through concert attendance. As the Symphony enters its 60th year they have suspended their Young People’s Concert program, along with Fourth of July and Labor Day events.
  • Borderlands Theater, a Tucson-based professional theater company focusing on border issues and The Latino/Chicano voice, faces hardship as they struggle with less than 1/3 of their annual contributions. Barclay Goldsmith, Borderlands’ Producing Director, is sorting out the realization of at least two new projects, both of which the organization has received funding for and one of which is transnational and brings recognition to Arizona. Unfortunately, Borderlands’ reduced operations budget nearly renders the staff unable to accomplish these projects. The organization’s two employees’ hours will be reduced by 60% as of April 1.

These and other Arizona arts and culture organizations generate significant benefits to their communities, cultivating development opportunities through the arts and increasing the availability of arts education.

Arizona’s nonprofit industry is one of the primary providers of Arts programs along with K-12 teachers related to the education of our children. Though the Commission has not yet formally surveyed local providers of arts education programs, it is clear that these programs are severely at risk, as evidenced by increasing daily calls to the Commission.

Public funding plays a distinctive role in the budgets of Arizona arts organizations, providing aid in leveraging additional financial support, ensuring equitable distribution of public dollars, and providing resources to ensure that all Arizonans can learn in, through and about the arts.

The Commission will continue to monitor the economy’s affect on arts organizations, by way of surveys and other evaluation techniques, to reveal trends and opportunities in the field. Survey results will also guide the Commission as it adjusts and develops programs to best serve the evolving needs of the statewide arts industry.

To view a comprehensive summary of survey results, visit the Commission’s website,

As the state arts agency, the Arizona Commission on the Arts envisions an Arizona where all people can broaden, deepen and diversify their engagement with the arts, as creators, audiences and supporters, in ways that are satisfying and integral to their lives.

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