June 4, 2009

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Keeping jobs
State arts organizations hope for a little federal help

By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Federal stimulus funding isn’t just for roads and bridges: some state arts organizations are unofficially (at press time) eligible for $10,000 or $20,000 one-time job preservation grants. It’s called “Arts Jobs: Putting New Hampshire to Work.”

The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts applied to the National Endowment for the Arts for this money. The NEA has said $230,000 is available for the state arts council to distribute.

Normally, grant money from this division of the state’s Department of Cultural Resources is earmarked for projects or programming, not salaries, said grant coordinator Cassandra Erickson. There are a lot of stipulations. To start with, stimulus money (this comes under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or ARRA), must be accepted by the governor and executive council. That had not happened as of June 1. The state arts council received a letter regarding the ARRA funds May 4.

Once this NEA money is officially accepted, the Arts Council can go through its usual process of a panel review of applicants, followed by arts council approval of recipients, followed by governor and executive council approval.

Nonprofits sound undaunted. “It’s not any more onerous than most state grants. They’ve actually, I think, done a really good job of streamlining it,” said Katie Goodman, director of development at the Capitol Center for the Arts. 

One difference is that ARRA funds are expected to require more “rigorous” reporting from both the receiving organizations and the arts council, Erickson said. 

The application deadline was May 8 (the state got the process started early). The amount of money requested exceeds what’s expected to be available, Erickson said. Groups that had either applied for an arts council operating grant or, in the past four years, received a Traditional Arts, Community Arts or Organizational Support project grant or Cultural Facilities grant were also eligible, Erickson said. The NEA wanted a “manageable applicant pool,” she said.

Some arts organizations can also apply directly to the NEA and the New England Foundation for the Arts. But they can only receive a stimulus grant from one, Erickson said.

The Currier Museum of Art in Manchester applied to both the NEA and the state. If the Currier receives an NEA ARRA grant, than the Currier can’t have state Arts Jobs money, so the arts council has to wait for the NEA’s decision.

Arts Jobs money can be used to fulfill artist contracts or help with salaries for any job related to the arts organization, but not to create new jobs. It’s restricted to job preservation and retention, said Peggy Senter, president and CEO of the Concord Community Music School. It’s also restricted against any fundraising or development positions, she said.

CCMS made cuts in March to match a decline in private lesson enrollment that resulted in a $60,000 drop in revenue. Those cuts included closing their office on Fridays. Affected staff members’ pay and work weeks were cut 20 percent. Arts Jobs money could help CCMS reinstate Friday office hours and those employees’ shifts. They “really make the Music School a friendly place to be,” Senter said. Those positions are also conducive to maintaining and rebuilding enrollment, she said.

Private lessons were down 11 percent this spring, from the 12 months previous, Senter said. However, total enrollment has increased by about 50 participants as the faculty has responded to the economy by “designing great group classes,” Senter said. 

That’s relative. Senter said her colleagues nationally think 11 percent isn’t too bad.

Included in the expected stimulus money is $50,000 the arts council applied for to retain one of its own jobs.

In February, there was concern from the NH Citizens for the Arts and the arts council that the governor’s proposed budget at that time left five full-time staff positions unfunded in that division, leaving one state and three federally funded staffers. Since normally the NEA matches state appropriations for that division, a reduction in state support equals a reduction in federal support, Senter pointed out.

The arts council is an important piece of infrastructure in the state arts community, Senter said. While some funding is redistributed as grants, they also provide programming and act as a “central database” for the arts community, Senter said.

Senter’s been involved in testifying at legislative budget hearings and said the state House has restored money to the arts council budget. The matter was in the Senate finance committee May 27, she said. She hopes the arts council budget is not cut disproportionately to other agencies.

The governor’s original proposal dropped state input from $822,000 to $448,000, which would essentially put the division at risk of losing 50 percent of regular NEA matching funds, Senter said. “That would be terrible,” she said. She pointed out few municipalities in New Hampshire make grants the way larger cities do.

The arts council is currently waiting to decide on its regular grants until the state’s budget is done. The fiscal year ends June 30.

The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, which has 786 juried craftsmen members and almost 700 supporting members, applied for the maximum Arts Jobs grant to help offset the cost of two staff positions. They’ve also applied for an operations grant, and a “Moose plate” cultural conservation grant to help with their permanent collection and archives, said executive director Susie Lowe-Stockwell.

“I know a lot more people are asking for grants,” Stockwell said.

Government grants, of course, aren’t the only ones these groups apply for.

Visit www.nh.gov/nhculture/recovery/ for details on Arts Jobs.



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