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A people’s victory for the arts in Michigan

December 8th, 2012 | Posted by Sarah in Grants | Inspiration and Success Stories

This afternoon in Lansing, a tremendous arts advocacy effort came full circle. 

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) announced $5,675,400 in funding for 312 grants to arts organizations throughout the state. Over 75% of applications received were funded, making for a lot of very grateful artists, performers, arts educators and nonprofit professionals — including yours truly!

What makes this cycle of grant awards so special, however, is that it represents the culmination of a very effective statewide advocacy effort. In 2009, the state budget for arts was slashed by 71%, leaving hundreds of MCACA grantees uncertain about the future of what was once a reliable annual source of funding. The maximum request amount for FY2010 grants was drastically reduced, and many grant writers (myself included) were left wondering if the application was even worth the trouble.

The tone of the Council meeting that year was somber. News of the drastic arts budget reduction came on the heels of the devastating recession, which had hit Michigan particularly hard and stripped many organizations of vital support from corporate sponsors.

Sensing our discouragement and hesitation, John Bracey, Executive Director of the MCACA, made a quiet, yet impassioned plea for us to submit our applications as usual. Doing so, he explained, would be a crucial demonstration of the need for state funding, and a statement of our commitment to bringing it back.

Those of us in the room understood that our very livelihood was on the line.

Throughout history, governments across the world have invested in the art of their people. Seeing the state’s mark of approval on promotional materials, contributor lists and financial statements gives donors a sense of security in supporting the arts. Even the biggest opponent of government spending is likely to be unconsciously validated, when he or she makes a contribution to the arts, by the knowledge that the state also deems this a worthy cause.

In Lansing that day, we understood that the potential elimination of the MCACA could mean the loss of our jobs, and the degradation of our treasured cultural sector. Teetering on the edge of financial ruin, our sponsors were pulling away, and so was our government. Who would be left to set an example for individual philanthropists?

What began that day was a cohesive, comprehensive advocacy movement. It began with submitting our MCACA applications, and continued with countless phone calls, emails and letters to legislators. We circulated evidence of the need for strong arts organizations in Michigan, and told our own stories of how the arts have supported us and our families.

Most importantly, we documented hard evidence of the fact that every dollar that goes into the arts sector is leveraged to drive at least $51 back into Michigan’s economy. By using the tools available to us through the Michigan Cultural Data Project, 211 arts organizations documented the economic impact of their existence. The financial data collected from these organizations revealed compelling facts such as the following:

  • In 2009, the group of organizations represented in the Creative State Michigan report contributed nearly half a billion dollars to the state’s economy through expenditures alone.
  • That same year, the sector paid $152 million in salaries for 15,560 jobs.
  • In 2010, arts and culture accounted for $2.1 billion, or more than 17%, of Michigan’s total tourism spending – more than golf, skiing, hunting/fishing, boating and sporting events combined.

Even staunch fiscal conservatives, like Governor Rick Snyder, couldn’t argue with these numbers. For years, our organizations had been touting the social, educational and emotional benefits of the arts, which to us are the most compelling reasons for our sector’s existence. Our touchy-feely elevator speeches weren’t doing it for our state’s new administration, though; we had to reach out to them in terms they could relate to. In this case, those terms were numbers.

Lansing heard us, and earlier this year, we learned that the 2013 budget for MCACA would be more than double what it was in FY2010. Maximum grant requests were increased, and we wrote our applications with renewed hope and enthusiasm. I wrote MCACA applications for two clients this year: Rackham Symphony Choir and the Scarab Club. Both organizations received grants more than twice the size of their FY2012 awards.

So, as a beneficiary of the cultural sector of Michigan, I want to say thank you to all of my colleagues. Thank you for taking the time to fill out the Cultural Data Project forms, for talking to your legislators, and for faithfully applying the MCACA when it seemed like a lost cause.

And thank you, most of all, to John Bracey and the staff and members of the MCACA. Your commitment inspired us to action, and now the organizations we love are reaping the benefits.

 

 

 

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