Leadership changes at the Arizona Commission on the Arts could impact how the state agency spends the $5 million allocated for arts and culture in Arizona’s 2024 budget.
PHOENIX—When governor Katie Hobbs signed Arizona’s fiscal year 2024 budget in mid-May 2023, the spending plan included a $5 million allocation for Arizona Commission on the Arts rather than the $20 million she had proposed before legislative negotiations took shape.
Still, it was good news for the agency, which is charged by state statutes with fostering and supporting arts appreciation, education, and participation throughout the state. (The state legislature appropriated $5 million to the ACA in the last state budget as well. For much of the past decade, Arizona had approved less than half that amount for the commission.)
This year, state funding comes as the agency is in flux, which could alter how the money gets spent.
Although the Arizona Commission on the Arts board of commissioners abruptly fired its executive director in October 2022, the board has yet to undertake a formal search to fill that position. In addition, the makeup of the ACA board is shifting. And the agency’s own 2024 budget won’t be approved until later this year, according to Arizona Commission on the Arts interim executive director Jacky Alling. In the meantime, statewide artists have some ideas on how the agency can distribute the funds, which more than doubled in 2022 compared to 2021.
“We recognize that there are a lot of moving parts,” says Alling, who was appointed in late December 2022 following the hasty dismissal of Anne L’Ecuyer.
Alling “guesstimates” that it could be late summer or early fall before the agency launches its search for a new executive director, and the process could take several months.
Meanwhile, the ACA board is undergoing changes, as the sometimes-criticized agency continues to grapple with a lack of geographic representation.
Until recently, the board included fewer than the fifteen members mandated by state law, and several members were serving expired terms. Beyond that, every member was based in Maricopa County (which encompasses the Phoenix metropolitan area) despite a state requirement that board members “shall be selected so as to ensure geographic representation to all areas of the state.”
In April 2023, Governor Hobbs appointed two new members who are based in Tucson and Sedona. But five members’ terms expire on June 30, 2023, according to a membership roster shared with Southwest Contemporary by the governor’s office of boards and commissions on June 9, 2023.
“We do know there will be this transition period,” says Alling.
It’s all happening as the agency works towards adopting its own 2024 fiscal year budget, which covers between July 1, 2023 and June 30, 2024. Alling expects to present preliminary budget recommendations to the board this month, but says the spending plan won’t be approved before the August meeting in order for new board members to be brought up to speed.
How will funding decisions get made in the interim?
In terms of grants, Alling explains that “there won’t be any major changes to the funding categories,” which include creative capacity, festival, lifelong/youth arts engagement, artist opportunity, and research and development grants.
Grants comprise about three-fourths of the commission’s current budget, and Alling notes that it’s “already in the process of holding grant panels” to review applications for their next cycle of grant funding.
As the agency works through myriad changes, artists are thinking about ways they’d like to see the $5 million distributed.
Fausto Fernandez, a Phoenix-based artist who says he’s previously applied for two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, suggests that the multi-million appropriation could help increase the number of individual artists who are awarded grants.
Barbara Kemp Cowlin, an artist based in the small southern Arizona town of Oracle, thinks the agency should also consider increasing the size of those grants so they’re more impactful in terms of each artist’s creative practice. But she’s also wondering whether a portion of that $5 million could go towards creating a program for statewide artists to share more ideas, experiences, and support with each other.
Those big ideas may have to wait, given that Alling expects strategic planning to happen only after the appointment of a new executive director. Come September, as the next budget cycle approaches, it’ll be time for state agencies to request funding for fiscal year 2025.
It’s too soon, amid all the moving parts, to know exactly how the state’s $5 million allocation will get distributed. But Alling says they’re grateful for the increased funding.
“The $5 million was historic last year,” she says, “and it’s historic this year as well.”