Arts advocates in Arizona celebrate a new state budget that includes $5 million for the arts, more than doubling the state’s arts funding.
PHOENIX, AZ—Arts advocates are celebrating a big win in Arizona after the state approved a significant increase in arts funding. Last Thursday, the Arizona State Legislature adopted its budget for fiscal year 2023—the period from July 1, 2023 to June 30, 2024—and it totals just under $18 billion.
The new spending plan, signed by Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday, June 28, includes $5 million in funding for Arizona Commission on the Arts, a state agency created in 1967 that is charged with creating “opportunities for all Arizonans to participate in and experience the arts.” It’s one of more than fifty affiliates of the National Endowment for the Arts.
“We’re shovel-ready with projects this funding will help us realize and bring to scale,” says Anne L’Ecuyer, who has served as Arizona Commission on the Arts executive director since February 2022.
According to L’Ecuyer, the commission will use those funds for programs and grants throughout the state, which will benefit not only artists and arts organizations, but community members including children, seniors, and veterans.
“We’ll also continue to target rural communities, artists, and organizations that serve people of color, and our relationships to Arizona’s twenty-two tribal communities,” she explains.
One of the first things they’ll do is increase the size of awards in their current round of Creative Capacity Grants, which provide unrestricted general operating support to arts and cultural organizations and agencies that “produce, present, teach, or serve the arts.”
The budget process actually started last year, and it has had a lot of moving parts including agencies submitting their funding requests and the governor and a joint legislative budget committee releasing their own proposed spending plans. The final budget follows months of negotiations.
Arizona Commission for the Arts requested $5 million for fiscal year 2023. It’s more than twice the amount it typically requests.
There’s good reason for that, according to Patrick McWhortor, CEO of Arizona Citizens for the Arts, the statewide arts advocacy organization that promotes arts-friendly public policy at state and local levels.
“The $5 million is an important down payment on the restoration of funding that was cut years ago,” says McWhortor. It’s a reference to the Great Recession and the fact that the arts commission’s budget was reduced by forty-eight percent between 2008 and 2012.
During that period, arts commission funding ceased to be a line item in the state’s general fund, and the state used its $20 million arts endowment to help balance the overall budget. According to McWhortor, those endowment funds have never been replaced.
Until recently, it looked like this year’s $5-million allocation wouldn’t happen, despite the fact that Arizona currently has a sizable budget surplus.
Governor Ducey’s budget proposal issued in January 2022 included just $2 million for Arizona Commission on the Arts, as did a legislative proposal introduced on June 20, 2022.
But the final budget, which was passed by the Legislature on June 23, 2022, includes the full $5 million requested by Arizona Commission on the Arts.
“It is a historic day,” McWhortor told Southwest Contemporary after hearing the news.
McWhortor notes that he has been meeting with legislators on a regular basis for many months, making the case for increased arts funding in Arizona. Likewise, Arizona Citizens for the Arts has been encouraging arts advocates to get involved by contacting their own representatives.
“Every legislator has their list of things that they want in the budget, so our challenge has been keeping the arts front and center,” he says.
Along the way, McWhortor used several tools, including a chart showing the amount and sources of Arizona arts funding from budget year 2008 to the present. During the pandemic, those sources included emergency funding from the state of Arizona and the NEA.
The chart indicates that Arizona ranked poorly for fiscal year 2022 per capita legislative appropriations in the arts, which was only 0.27 per person after emergency funding from the state.
Several states in the Southwest—Colorado at 0.35, Texas at 0.35, Nevada at 0.63, New Mexico at 0.67, and Utah at 2.92—had higher per capita spending during that same period, even without adding in any emergency state funding they may have received.
L’Ecuyer notes that state monies are only part of the financial mix in the cultural sector. As in other states, the arts in Arizona are also funded through private donations, corporate philanthropy, foundation grants, and items like ticket sales.
In just a matter of months, Arizona Commission for the Arts and other Arizona agencies will submit their budgetary proposals for the 2024 fiscal year. Another round of budget negotiations will follow.
For the time being, L’Ecuyer plans to continue her conversations with lawmakers, helping to create ongoing awareness about the ways the arts are impacting Arizona communities. “We’re excited about the budget and what’s possible,” she says. “We’ve got great momentum moving forward.”