Arts Funding Cuts; Houston Still Has a Few Cards to Play

By now you've probably heard about the proposed state cuts to the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) and all of the ways it will hurt arts organizations in Texas. If not, here is a brief recap in "poker" terminology:

Round One: The House is all in! In April, an aggressive budget to slash $3.5 million to the TCA is passed by the "reps." Next!

Round Two: The Senate, with its game face on, ups the ante and proposes a $3.7 million cut.

Round Three: But wait! The TCA meets this and raises an additional cut of its own: another 1.2 percent. What the...??

Is the TCA bluffing? Will the Senate see through their Po-Po-Po-Poker face? Or does the TCA have a real strategy? Will cutting that 1.2 percent actually save the TCA, giving them the best hand with the crappy cards they've been dealt?

The best way to understand the TCA's logic is that it is hitting an RBI to bring one in for the team. They are chopping off a limb to save the rest of their body. But are they cutting off their nose to spite their face? Giving up an eye for... OK, too many analogies.

If all goes according to plan, the Senate votes at the end of this month and the TCA, while beaten down and stripped to its skivvies, may still survive. But what does this mean for Houston's thriving arts community?

Houston is somewhat lucky to have a bit of padding known as the Hotel Occupancy Tax. Those familiar with Houston's grand supporter of the arts, the Houston Arts Alliance, know how important tourism is to any organization. While the city's HOT (Hotel Occupancy Tax) monies fund quite a few of the city's arts projects, these dollars don't fill the city's big, artistic bucket.
"Roughly three-fourths of Houston Arts Alliance income is covered by the City of Houston Hotel Occupancy Tax funds and other municipal state funding," says Director of Development for the Houston Arts Alliance, John Bradshaw, Jr. However, Houston is not necessarily in the clear. According to its website, in 2011 alone, the HAA funded close to 200 different arts organizations with a variety of objectives to enhance the city of Houston.

As of now, Bradshaw says he hasn't heard of any effect to the HOT funds, but nothing is ever sure. So could this be the pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow for Houston's art community?

While the HOT tax will certainly help fund much of the city's programs, it still leaves slim pickins for each organization to achieve its overall mission. "Many smaller nonprofits heavily rely on state arts funding, in addition to the local funding they receive through HAA. So even if we are able to continue granting funds to these organizations, it may not be enough for them to keep their doors open," Bradshaw says.

And while Houstonians are still great patrons of the arts, Bradshaw worries for the future of Houston's now-vibrant art scene . "Houstonians are, by and large, quite generous when it comes to the arts - but there is simply a limited number of people, foundations and corporations supporting the arts, and they can't support every single worthwhile endeavor. "

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Abby Koenig
Contact: Abby Koenig