State, city leaders bolster arts programs; Legislature earmarks $2M in extra funding for arts commission efforts

Art teacher Margaret Lieu works with students to install a mural at Peoria Accelerated High School in Peoria earlier this month. The project was designed in partnership with the nonprofit WHAM arts group with funding from Strengthening Schools Through Arts Partnerships program, which is administered by the Arizona Commission on the Arts. [Submitted photo]

By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

While opinions may vary on the Arizona Legislature’s $11.8 billion budget passed and signed into law earlier this week, one group praised lawmakers for their continuing support for the arts in Arizona.

The Arizona Commission on the Arts announced Wednesday the new budget delivers another boon for the group, which will get a one-time $2.2 million allocation, just a year after receiving a similar investment from the state in 2018.

“The $11.8 billion fiscal year 2020 budget passed early Tuesday morning by the Arizona State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey includes $2.2 million dedicated to the arts in Arizona … This appropriation repeats a similar one-time investment made in the previous year, ensuring level funding for the Arts Commission’s fiscal year 2020,” according to a commission press release.

The extra money will have direct impacts on arts programs across the state, according to Steve Wilcox, a spokesman for the commission, who said this second one-time allocation nearly doubles his group’s annual budget.

“This $2 million allocation repeats a similar one-time allocation that was delivered to our agency last year by the legislature and the governor,” Mr. Wilcox said. “That greatly boosted our ability to make grants throughout the state to nonprofit arts organizations, primarily through our Community Investment Grant program.”

The CIG program funds general operations, a key distinction from many other grant options for arts groups, which require them to spend most or all of the funds on specific art installations.

Last year, after receiving the extra funding from state lawmakers, the commissioners divvied up their funding amongst nearly 170 individuals, organizations and municipalities, with recipients taking home grants ranging from less than $600 to as much as $60,000.

The money served museums, municipalities, arts centers, historical societies, theater and ballet troupes, choral and instrumental ensembles, school programs, arts education programs and festival events, among many others.

“This really makes a huge impact, not just in our major metros, but across the state in rural and remote communities,” he added.

Connie Whitlock, founder and executive director of the Surprise-based nonprofit WHAM arts group, said the commission’s CIG program provides crucial support, which would be hard to find elsewhere.

“It’s very rare to see operations grants anywhere anymore,” Mr. Whitlock said. “The commission still does give those out and an organization such as ours really covets something like that because you don’t have to apply the money to a project, it’s to the organization, which is just super.”

Where other grant sources will support individual arts projects in the community, operational money is needed to support the nonprofit group’s arts educational programs, Ms. Whitlock explained.

One such program is WHAM’s Art: A Path to Healing, which provides professional art courses to combat veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. The classes are free and include all art supplies and equipment, as well as lunch.

WHAM also hosts adaptive arts classes for those with disabilities — such as children with developmental disabilities or seniors with Alzheimer’s — which might limit their participation in other traditional programs.

The studio-based classes are taught by practicing artists, who work in groups or individually to give participants the tools to express their creativity. The CIG funding is especially important to delivering these kinds of programs, Ms. Whitlock said.

“It was very advantageous to an organization like ours,” she added.

Ms. Whitlock and officials from organizations across Arizona await the commission’s choices for how they carve up this year’s arts-funding pie, a decision they will make late next month, Mr. Wilcox said.

“Ultimately how funds are invested is a decision to be made by our governor-appointed commissioners,’ Mr. Wilcox said. “That will be central to the discussion at our next board meeting next month. But we can certainly project based on the work that’s been done in the past what that might look like.”

The Arizona Commission on the Arts Governing Board will decide on this grant amounts and recipients at their next public meeting 1 p.m. Thursday, June 27 at 417 W. Roosevelt St., Phoenix.

The list of grant awardees will be announced in July, Mr. Wilcox said.

Meanwhile, municipalities around the Valley continue to support public art installations, such as in the city of Peoria, where officials have invested in a series of roadway murals painted on intersections around the community, as was reported by the Daily News-Sun last month.

“The goal is to engage the community in working together to create something that they can enjoy and to create a sense of pride for the community,” said Peoria Arts and Events Manager Marylou Stephens.

Installation of the roadway murals continued throughout May and each project featured the efforts of local artists, who painted intersections at four locations, including:

  • April 12-14, 84th Avenue and Jefferson Street; artists Charith and Michael Denson and Arnold Guerrero
  • April 27-28, 84th Avenue and Washington Street; artists Martha Wolfe and Heather Young
  • April 28-May 2, 83rd Avenue and Washington Street; artist Melissa Zimmer
  • April 28-May 2, 83rd Avenue and Jefferson Street; artists Lance Linderman and Timmy Ham

The projects are part of the city’s placemaking initiative intended to activate areas in Peoria that uplift and connect people. It is described as an aesthetic effort to attract businesses, residents and outsiders alike.

Ms. Stephens said some of the placemaking initiatives are part of the overall Old Town revitalization plan, which has included free performances, such as the Music on the Plaza series, monthly Food Trucks at the Distillery, as well as the Peoria Arts & Cultural Festival.

In Scottsdale, city leaders earlier this month added funds to their annual budget to bolster public art installations throughout the community.

The Scottsdale City Council made a few budget adjustments to the capital improvement project called Arts in Public Places, pulling close to $227,000 from the funds for art components on other projects.

The council approved on consent the adjustments at its Tuesday, May 14 meeting at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

The first adjustment consisted of a $67,225 budget appropriation transfer from the Arts in the Public Places project to the Raintree Drive: Scottsdale Road to Hayden Road project. The Transportation Sales Tax (0.20%) is funding this project.

The Scottsdale council also approved a budget appropriation transfer of $130,000 from the Arts in Public Places project to the SkySong — ASU Scottsdale Center for Innovation — Art Component project. This project is receiving funding through the General Fund funding source.

The final transfer was $29,778 from the Arts in Public Places project to the Marshall Way Entry Feature project, which the Transportation Sales Tax (0.20%) is funding as well.

The goal of the Arts in Public Places capital project is to “integrate art into the city of Scottsdale built environment,” according to a city staff report to council.

Editor’s note: Independent Newsmedia journalists Philip Haldiman and Josh Martinez contributed to this report. 

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