State finally budgeted more for arts grants
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
The state legislature recently provided about $25,000 more per year for two years for operating grants for arts organizations. It’s probably the first increase to that line item since John Sununu was governor in the 1980s, said Marilyn Hoffman, president of the NH Citizens for the Arts board.
It’s grant season, and the NH State Council on the Arts is up to its ears evaluating applications.
The Arts Council had $215,000 available every year for the highly competitive operating grants until this summer. The cool part is that the National Endowment for the Arts matches what the state provides. With federal matches, there was $300,000 available for operating grants this year, said Paul Ferguson, chief grants officer for the Arts Council. That’s not equal to the original buying power, but it’s “a step in the right direction at a tight budget time,” Hoffman said.
“I think we recognized the economic impact as well as the vitality that the arts lend to the community,” said state senate president Sylvia B. Larsen (D-Concord).
For example, when a child is in a Palace Theatre performance, friends and extended family who attend are likely to buy a meal in downtown Manchester, Hoffman said.
Operating grants are meant to reward excellence in arts organizations that provide services to the public, Ferguson said. Nonprofits compete for the funds to cover operating expenses so they can free up cash for programming, Ferguson said. Groups must show the quality of existing programs, and how they can expand services, he said. They have to match the grant through their own income, donations or sponsorship, Ferguson said.
Awards for this tough category give recipients leverage when they apply for non-state grants, Hoffman said.
The Palace Theatre in Manchester, which offers a professional series of musicals as well as youth education, was recently awarded $13,600 per year during the next two years due in part to the state’s increase for operating grants, according to the theater.
“Some of the [legislative] leadership were actually shocked to find how tiny [the] figures were,” Hoffman said about the arts grants budget. There’s new leadership in the Senate and House. The House recommended a larger increase but there were constraints in trying to fund programs for disabled participants and others, Larsen said. The operating grant line item was one that several arts leaders were watching, Larsen said. Other types offered by the Arts Council include Projects, Arts Education Leadership and Cultural Conservation. Grants are also available for individual artists and arts partners.
As the cost of living and doing business gets higher, nonprofits are “really struggling,” Ferguson said: “We do the best we can at trying to provide access to the arts throughout the whole state.”
Priorities for NH Citizens for the Arts include getting buying power back to what was budgeted about 20 years ago, and arts education.