Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to infuse $100 million into Wisconsin’s public arts and culture efforts through the Wisconsin Artistic Endowment Foundation was removed by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) earlier this month along with 544 other provisions outlined in the budget proposal.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum created the Wisconsin Artistic Endowment Foundation in 2001 with the goal of capitalizing on the economic growth potential the state’s creative sector has on the overall vitality of the state.
The foundation had been inactive for most years since its creation as a funding mechanism was never identified. Today, Wisconsin ranks last among all 50 states for financial support for public arts and culture, spending only 14 cents per capita, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA).
Wisconsin’s Creative Economy Coalition is made up of over 100 businesses, individuals, organizations and economic development agencies statewide. The coalition supports the investment, with Wisconsin Arts Board Executive Director Goerge Tzougros describing it as thrilling for the artistic community.
“The governor’s proposal to put that $100 million in really animated the arts community,” Tzougros told The Daily Cardinal. “That’s really exciting for us because it will not only mean an increase in funding to both the Arts Board and the Wisconsin Artistic Endowment but will hopefully be an amount that grows over time.”
The lack of funding results in artists and arts organizations leaving Wisconsin for neighboring states as they search for better support and appreciation for their work, Tzougros said.
“If creators are leaving the state to go elsewhere, that’s not only a challenge for Wisconsin’s arts organizations and artists, but it’s a challenge for the entire economy,” Tzougros said
Illinois ranks 25th in arts funding with $0.85 per capita while Minnesota sits at the number two spot, spending $7.62 per capita in their investment towards artistic endeavors, according to the NASAA.
The coalition also pointed to Iowa, which ranks slightly above Wisconsin at 47th in terms of public arts and culture funding. To address this and set a new trajectory, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a $100 million investment called Destination Iowa to “bolster the quality of life in Iowa’s communities and attract visitors and new residents to the state.”
Public arts funding is especially pertinent given that audiences have not returned to full strength to bolster the funding of artists and artistic organizations following the COVID-19 pandemic, Tzougros said.
“[The pandemic] makes the issue of public funding of the arts really crucial because all of the organizations deal with a mix of funding that includes earned and contributed income,” he added. “That contributed income comes from individuals, foundations and corporations, but it also comes from the state.”
Despite these setbacks, coalition member Anne Katz — who also serves as Creative Wisconsin’s executive director — said the coalition is still determined to look for ways to fund public arts and culture beyond the endowment.
“Now that we know the specific $100 million proposal is not going to happen, we are working on what more we can do. We’ve got our coalition and our strategists working on what the next steps are,” Katz told The Daily Cardinal.
The coalition is working with lobbying and consulting firm Michael Best Strategies. The firm leans conservative, according to nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog Open Secrets, a contrast to state Republicans’ past actions cutting arts and culture funding.
Historically, Democrats support funding the arts. But they must gain bipartisan support from the Republican-controlled JFC to revive arts funding in the upcoming biennial state budget.
Katz hopes Wisconsinites understand both the importance of investing in the arts industry and the spillover effects that the creative economy has on other industries and sectors.
“We have incredibly creative people. We have entrepreneurs who have really profound entrepreneurial spirits. We have vibrant indie communities,” Katz said. “Those are our assets, and we should be investing in those.”
“It’s not only artistic funding. It’s supporting businesses, communities and people. It is really an investment in Wisconsin’s future,” Katz continued.