Arts On The Chopping Block | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Arts On The Chopping Block


City budget woes have put after-school programs, funded through the Greater Jackson Arts Council, at risk. Revenue shortfalls have reached critical levels, and Mayor Frank Melton's budget revisions now jeopardize a number of programs.

During the Johnson administration, the organization suffered $25,000 in cuts. After a few years of stability, the Arts council was hit with another $29,000 cut in the 2005 budget, leaving them with $110,000.

Tax collections fell $622,000 below expectations between November 2005 and March 2006, while the municipal courts garnered $1,544,000 less than the mayor's administration had predicted. Meanwhile, utilities cost the city $1,006,000 more than expected over the same period. Optimistic predictions for the cost of retiree health insurance premiums underestimated actual costs by $973,000. As a consequence, the city made a flurry of budget cuts in early February—5 percent of every city department except the JPD, which suffers a 2.5 percent cut.

Before the March budget revision reached City Council, however, the mayor had already been working to slash funding to the Arts Council of Jackson. The funding cuts were not highlighted in either the 2005 budget or the proposed budget revision of early 2006, but local classrooms and organizations associated with artistic development will doubtless feel the impact in coming months, if they have not already.

"The cuts affect us very seriously," said Arts Council Operations Manager Charles Smith. "When the city cuts us, we have to put our grantees off ... cutting our ability to take care of their projects."

The Arts Council acts as a sort of chamber of commerce to the arts. It organizes, collaborates and arranges for people to meet investors. A governing body normally fills the role it plays, especially in state capitals. Every year, the council also doles out money to local organizations such as neighborhood associations, schools and private organizers looking to promote the arts in the city of Jackson and the greater Hinds County area.

Years ago, the Arts Council gave neighborhood associations $1,000 per project. After cuts in the last administration, that dropped to $750. Now, allotments stand at $600.

In coming weeks, the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra will attend the Express Yourself after-school program at Bolton Middle School, courtesy of money provided by the Arts Council. The symphony visit is a one-time program that could continue if a private patron or the right federal agency awards a grant, but writing compelling grant proposals is difficult with a staff of three.

"We spend so much time running after and trying to secure our funding for next year. It's more difficult for us to operate and function at full capacity when we're spending too much time trying to plug holes," Smith said.

Ward 2 Councilman Leslie McLemore, a professor at Jackson State University, said the arts enrich students. "The Arts (Council) has a meager budget to start with. The city and the county grossly underfund it, and to cut back on a program that small that has such a positive effect on the children of Hinds County is an insult to all of us who care about our programs for youth and our seniors," McLemore said.

Melton acknowledged the cuts to the Arts Council in a recent interview with Donna Ladd, and said the Arts Council has "100 percent support" from him.

Melton said he plans to return funding for the Arts Council by cutting money from other parts of the city budget.

Previous Comments


Don't know what happened to my last post here... guess it got lost in the transition... What I had said was that in talking with creatives in other states, this is a nationwide problem. People are not seeing the importance of the arts, therefore they end up delegating less money, time and resources to those programs. It has always amazed me how you never seem to hear about the athletic programs lacking, and where they seem to be, you hear of all kind of fundraisers to aid in the deficit. I just think we all need to get together, those who love the arts and those who are artists, and find ways to offset this problem. If we do this, it will help guide the hands of those who are overseeing the money---- because we would be the ones putting them in office and in their positions.

c a webb

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