Another year, another NJSCA annual meeting on a hot summer day. This year arts administrators were smiling, but we’ve been trained through the MFA Program in Hart Knocks to be happy with whatever we receive in government support. This year, in yet another tough budget cycle, the new administration and legislature supported the minimums specified in the law, namely the Hotel/Motel Occupancy Fee of 2003. What wasn’t emphasized was that the cultural community (read arts AND history) lost $4 million in principal for the NJ Cultural Trust. That money (instead of the Cultural Projects or NJ Historical Commission appropriations) was doled out in earmarks to major arts/cultural destinations like Battleship NJ, The Newark Museum, and the Old Barracks Museum. The net result will be less Cultural Trust grants awarded for “stability.” Is there an irony here?
Certainly, these institutions are worthy of state support at the levels they require. Even with this support, these major facilities are facing curtailed hours and significant layoffs. All cultural groups, large and small, north and south, rural, urban and suburban, are having to re-invent how they are perceived by the general public, how they do business, attract patrons/clients, etc. We’re all in this together.
Let’s not fool anyone, though. We’re all still hurting. We’re all still being as creative as we can with relatively less money and trying to swim instead of treading water. The money still isn’t where it needs to be in total (doesn’t the same law say $22.68 million for arts support?) , and we still have a big job to do to make sure the public understands that the arts are business, and to be successful everyone has to “play their part,” from the artists, audience members and donors, trustees, to the vendors/suppliers to the (for the most part) underpaid staffers.
Hang in there and keep reminding everyone that the only reason “The Jersey Shore” isn’t the bottom line, the final word about NJ culture, is because there’s great work being done by non-profit arts groups on pennies and prayers!