Resources will be precious for creative class

According to Christine Harris, president of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee, the budget repair bill has several provisions that will directly impact the capacity of the nonprofit arts community to serve the state and the greater Milwaukee area.

The proposed budget calls for a significant decrease in funding for the Wisconsin Arts Board, as well as other significant changes to the structure of the board and its educational component.

“The proposal, as is, calls for a 58-percent reduction in the Wisconsin Art Board’s budget and also calls for the Wisconsin Arts Board to be consolidated into the Wisconsin Department of Tourism,” Harris said. “This would essentially eliminate the agency and have three staff members and the executive director report to the tourism secretary. All other staff members at the agency would be eliminated.”

According to Harris, the consolidation would mean the Wisconsin Arts Board essentially becomes a program of the Department of Tourism.

“The concern with that is the funding the Arts Board has provided for our state that goes beyond cultural tourism,” Harris said. “In the past, the organization has played a significant role in providing funds for community development, arts education and has served the community through the arts and grant initiatives. All organizations will be affected by this; we just don’t know the extent of it yet.”

In addition to the changes at the Wisconsin Arts Board, school districts across the state will be forced to make decisions on program cuts in their own schools, Harris said.

“The education component is a bit more complex because each individual school district will need to decide how to allocate their ever-decreasing dollars,” Harris said. “Historically, we’ve seen the money and investments in arts curriculum like visual arts, music and dance steadily decrease; these cuts could seriously exacerbate that situation.”

Harris believes that Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Greg Thornton has a strong belief in the value of having some arts education and will attempt to spread those resources in valuable ways across schools.

“There isn’t any real sense of optimism,” Harris said. “We are very, very concerned that if we are not careful and we continue to diminish the value of arts in our life that a bit of every heart and soul goes out of our community and out of our kids.”

While many of the artist groups in the community are scared of what the budget potentially means, Harris and other members of Milwaukee’s creative economy are taking the opportunity to shed light on a new discussion about how the creative industries can be a driving economic engine for the region, Harris said.

“I’m finding when I talk to legislators, the door to the creative industries as an economic development strategies has opened up,” Harris said. “The budget repair bill has sent shockwaves through the community, but we need to use it as a leverage point to change the conversation. We’re trying to do that.”

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