West Virginia’s financial crisis has reached a climax, and government officials now look for solutions to remedy present budget issues and secure the state’s future.
Much of the conversation surrounding the budget has focused on cuts that would all but abolish arts funding.
The arts receive $4.6 million a year from the state, a miniscule portion of its $4.5 billion budget. Those funds are typically put to work through West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Fairs and Festivals budget, which sponsors many arts organizations and events in the state. It’s estimated that cutting the $4.6 million dollars in arts funding in the budget would cause a loss of more than $1 billion in economic impact. It’s hard to ignore the incredible return on investment that would be gone.
With state funding gone, the arts would also lose federal matching funds. These funds, funneled through the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, reach every county in West Virginia.
In between these numbers and statistics lie the lost experiences and opportunities.
For some of West Virginia’s youth, state funding cuts would eliminate any chance for them to see a live play, hear an orchestra or create with an artist. Research proves that connecting children to the arts makes them better students and more productive and service-minded citizens. It also makes them more likely to attend college, an important return on investment in the least-educated state in the nation.
When parents realize there are no opportunities for their children to experience the arts, they could decide to move to an area where they are provided. In the end, the lack of arts could speed up West Virginia’s population decline.
When people leave, business development stalls. Small towns like Jefferson, Iowa, to large cities like Pittsburgh have used arts programming and entrepreneurship to revitalize communities, enhancing the cultural and economic landscape. If arts organizations and businesses were required to collaborate to retain funding, the generated revenue and cultural impact could be illustrious.
There’s no question that tackling the budget crisis requires hard work. It’s complicated and painstaking, but that is why our state’s legislators were elected to office — to address the toughest issues.
Instead of cutting funds to programs that so deeply affect our citizens’ and state’s future, we must look for proactive approaches to spark the economy, bring manufacturing back to West Virginia and retrain the workforce.
The Legislature should do a complete review of the tax program and tax structure of West Virginia to find new methods and solutions to create tax revenue without harming the lowest-income families.
West Virginia did not get into its current budget situation because of excess arts funding, and it will not be dug out of this hole through its elimination.
It is vital to acknowledge the importance and impact of the arts while working toward a financial solution for a more balanced West Virginia. Our children, our culture and our state depend on it.
Paul Kreider is dean of the College of Creative Arts at West Virginia University.