Larger budgets could be in store for Northern Virginia artists and arts groups in the next two years if the General Assembly approves a budget proposal by outgoing Gov. Mills Godwin. In his budget message to the legislature last week Godwin urged that funding for the Virginia Commission of Arts and Humanities be more than tripled.
State funding for the commission totals just over $280,000 for the current fiscal year. The proposal for the next two years calls for a commission budget of $1,045,910 in fiscal 1979 and $1,255,095 in 1980, according to John McCutcheon, state director of planning and budget.
Until now, Virginia has ranked 47th in the country in arts funding by the state legislature, according to a recently released survey by the American Council of Arts.
The Virginia arts commission was founded by Godwin in 1968 as the state agency primarily responsible for administering arts money appropriated by the General Assembly, the National Endowment for the Arts and other government and private sources.
The expanded state funding would increase the Virginia's annual spending for the arts from 6 cents per resident to about 15 cents per person. Artists and communities in Northern Virginia are expected to benefit significantly if the arts budget is approved.
"Because of the extensive arts activity in Northern Virginia, we have more individuals and groups applying (for funding) than any other region of the state," said Kathy Dwyer, supervisor of arts in the Arlington County recreation division. An increased budget probably would mean more applications and better, more competitive quality of programs being submitted for funding, she said.
"When the state shows the arts are a priority like this, it's a big help to us locally," Dwyer added. "It gives us support for the concept of more funding at the local level when we go to the county with our budget. Also, in terms of quantity, more of the people applying will receive at least a little funding. And, of course, it will have impact on the size of grants awarded, most of which are under $5,000."
Jerry Haynie, executive director of the commission, said he is "giving the lion's share of credit" for the requested budget increase to the state's 5-month-old advocacy group, BRAVO ARTS, Inc.
Members of this group, first of its kind in Virginia, spoke up for the arts in lobbying efforts throughout the state, Haynle said, adding that "BRAVO was parrticularly effective because it can obviously advocate more than we can through the budget process."
Haynie estimated that commission funding for grants awarded in Northern Virginia totaled about $85,000 for the current fiscal year. He said the grants went to 31 individual artists, arts groups or institutions selected from about 100 that sought funds.
Statewide, he said, about 340 applicants sought a total of more than $2 million in commission grants. He said that the total awarded was about $450,000 adding that much of the money came from sources other than the state.
"A large percentage of our state taxes come from Northern Virginians, who often do not feel they're getting their fair share from tax dollars. This is not always the fault of the government, but Northern Virginians themselves, who sometimes have a chip on their shoulders in relation to the rest of the state," said William F. Vosbeck of Alexandria, a member of the BRAVO advisory committee.
"I'm asking them not to gripe, but to contribute more to the arts and to involve themselves both monetarily and physically in the arts and activities we have here not only in Northern Virginia but the entire state," he said. "All the increased arts funding is needed not only to boost cultural appreciation within the state but also to improve general standards of education in the schools."
BRAVO chairwoman Pamela Reynolds of Richmond said that the organization "feels it's had an impact because for the first time all people invovled in the arts, business and politics got together and presented a united front for the arts."
Reynolds said that after last week's budget announcement, she told everyone "we can be happy for about 24 hours and then we have to get busy building support for passage of the budget through the legislature.It's important now to get the increased arts funding through the General Assembly's appropriation's process. The big question is, 'Can this figure be held, realistically?' It's important now that we not let the pressure off so that we hold on to the money."
BRAVO representatives met early this year with Northern Virginia's city and county arts administrators to initiate local lobbying efforts, including a letter-writing campaign to state legislators.
Peggy Amsterdam, executive director of the Fairfax County Council of the Arts, a non-profit community arts group, also is assisting in regional coordination for BRAVO activities in Northern Virginia. She pointed out that increased state funding for the arts "will be a tremendous aid to improving the quality of life for everyone in this area."
"More money will allow increased local arts programing so there will be a larger number of activities for citizens to participate in and to attend. People are currently expressing a need for more art in their lives and communities and this is really going to allow them to become more involved. But right now, it's important for people to write to their legislators to tell them they support this proposed budget," Amsterdam said.
BRAVO advisory committee members from Northern Virginia also include Catherine Shouse, founder of Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts, and Virginia Holton, wife of the former Republican governor of Virginia.