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Opinion Arlington should not cut arts funding

A scene built with the help of the Arlington Scenic Studio Program.
A scene built with the help of the Arlington Scenic Studio Program. (Janet Bordeaux/Courtesy Arlington Players)
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Janet Kopenhaver is chair and founder of Embracing Arlington Arts.

If the 2020 budget that Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz submitted to the County Board is implemented, it will prove to be devastating to the Arlington arts community.

Schwartz included a 1.5-cent increase in the real estate taxes but also proposed cuts to the Arlington Cultural Affairs division, including closure of the Scenic Studio Program and Costume Lab; elimination of the facility manager, facility technology services director, audio production specialist, after-hours building maintenance shift supervisor and mobile stage; and potentially a $70,000 cut to the already very low arts grant budget.

This would likely make Arlington’s arts grant budget the lowest in the region and basically end the award-winning space and services grant program in Arlington.

This directly contrasts with our neighboring communities and counties — Fairfax, Herndon, Falls Church and Alexandria — who have invested in the arts by supporting black-box theaters, arts districts and arts centers.

We all have to sacrifice when budgets are tough. However, the arts community is stunned at the very high proportion that the small arts budget is being asked to shoulder. Embracing Arlington Arts, , a citizens group that advocates and supports the arts in Arlington, researched the numbers and found that the total reductions from existing budget items for fiscal year 2020 are $5 million, and arts account for 10 percent of the reductions, or $500,000. However, the Cultural Affairs total budget in fiscal year 2019 was $2,668,359, or 0.16 percent of the total county budget. In the end, the tiny arts program is being held accountable for a share of this year’s budget shortfall that is 62.5 times greater than its share of the 2019 county budget. If the cuts were proportional to the actual budget, then the cuts to the arts would be only $8,000.

There is also the cascading effect of lost dollars, because of Arlingtonians leaving the county for their entertainment and spending their dollars here in Arlington. According to “The Creative Industries: Business & Employment,” a report from Americans for the Arts, Arlington County arts entities employ 6,124 people in 658 arts-related businesses. Another economic study showed that more than $18 million in economic activity in Arlington is derived from audience expenditures associated with arts events, including eating at restaurants, parking, ticket sales and other purchases made during a night out. These dollars go away when arts organizations fold or move to more “arts friendly” counties.

Arlington is clearly courting businesses to locate here. However, businesses in today’s society are seeking workers with creative and innovative thinking. The arts fulfill this training and challenge citizens to do just that. Without numerous and diverse cultural avenues, potential workers are hampered in their ability to develop new ideas and strategies.

Furthermore, businesses want these creative employees to be happy where they live and to live near their workplace. Without arts in the local communities, employees will look elsewhere for living arrangements and might then opt for a job closer to where they live. In a three-year study conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, researchers found that some of the key reasons cited by residents for loving their cities were entertainment and social offerings — in other words, the arts and culture.

Community arts and culture are sustainable economic development assets that can help attract and retain businesses and residents. Arts and cultural programming creates authentic local experiences and contributes to the community experience.

Heaping such draconian cuts onto the arts in Arlington would have a devastating and irreversible effect on our cultural presence in the region. The Arlington County Board should reject these cuts.

Read more:

Alyssa Rosenberg: Targeting the arts is the laziest way to pretend to cut the budget

Mike Huckabee: A conservative plea for the National Endowment for the Arts

Eugene Robinson: Trump budgets for a dumber, dirtier America