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The Arts and the Economy

South Carolina Arts Commission Presentation to House Ways and Means Higher Education, Tech and Cultural Subcommittee January 26, 2011


Presented by Ken May, Executive Director of the South Carolina Arts Commission, to Chairman Limehouse and Representatives Neal and Skelton, regarding the FY2012 state budget.


The subcommittee hearing is the first step in the budget process. The full House Ways and Means committee is expected to begin discussions in mid-February.



A week ago, Governor Haley came to the House chambers and asked you to eliminate the Arts Commission. I am here today to ask you not to do that.




Because all South Carolinians deserve opportunities to benefit from the arts, not just those who are wealthy or who happen to live in larger cities. This is why, in 1967, the General Assembly created the Arts Commission. It is our mandate as a public agency to work with partners throughout the state and across all sectors to bring the arts to all of our citizens and all of our communities, and there is no private sector alternative.  


It is our unique role to provide sustained, strategic leadership on arts issues that have significant statewide impact on education, quality of life, and our economy.


One good example is arts education. Education in and through the arts has always been fundamental to our work, but since 1987 we have led a statewide coalition of arts and education leaders in a very successful, long term effort to improve arts education for all students. The goal of the Arts in Basic Curriculum partnership is for every student in SC schools to get a quality education in the arts that develops the creativity, problem solving, self-discipline, and collaborative skills our graduates will need to compete in the 21st Century economy. This nationally recognized initiative also seeks to boost general academic achievement, a proven benefit of arts education, especially for at-risk students.


This is just one example of the Commission’s leadership. There are many others—in developing the arts in rural areas, improving access to the arts for people with disabilities, preserving and celebrating our traditional arts heritage, helping arts organizations build public participation, promoting cultural tourism, and assisting artists in small business development, just to name a few.


As a public agency with a statewide mandate, we are uniquely positioned to serve in this role, and, again, there is no private sector alternative.


It is also important to note that private investment in the arts—by individuals, corporations, and foundations—is almost exclusively local and is not equally distributed. This is why the Arts Commission’s investment of grant funds statewide is so important. In poorer communities it helps to fill a gap in local funding, and in communities with more resources, our investment helps to leverage additional local contributions. Last year, across all programs, we awarded more than $2.2 million in grants. These awards went to schools, arts organizations, and other community groups and were spread broadly around the state—more than 340 grants in 41 counties. These grants helped local groups raise more than $91 million in matching funds—a return on investment of better than 40 to 1.


And it is not just that we give funding statewide; it’s also how we give funding that makes a unique difference. We invest scarce public funds for the arts through a rigorous, fair, transparent, and accountable process designed to yield the greatest public benefit possible. This ensures a good return on the public’s investment, and it also provides validation to our grantees that helps them leverage additional funds.


I would also be willing to bet that, without this kind of systematic, fair approach to grantmaking at the state level, the alternative for you will be an onslaught of line-item requests.


While we’re talking about leveraging other investment, I should note that, if there is no state investment in the arts in South Carolina, there will be no federal investment either. The funds we receive from the National Endowment for the Arts require a state match.


But are the arts really that important to our state? The answer is yes, absolutely—and maybe more so than you think.


According to a recent study by researchers at the Moore School of Business at USC, creative industries in South Carolina contribute more than $9.2 billion to the state’s economy annually and support more than 78,000 jobs. That’s approximately 3% of the total state economy. An industry of this magnitude is worthy of consistent, focused attention and investment at the state level.


And, if we want to attract and grow other high-value industries that depend on well-educated, creative workers, our communities need to offer the kind of vibrant cultural life that these workers are looking for.


These workers and all of our citizens want to live in cities and towns with lively and attractive urban centers. The arts frequently are catalysts for neighborhood and downtown revival, and there are many good examples in our state: downtown Charleston, the Congaree Vista and Main Street in Columbia, downtown Newberry, Main Street and the West End in Greenville, and many others.


And then there is tourism, one of our state’s largest industries. Arts attractions—from the Spoleto Festival in Charleston to the Old Time Fiddlin’ Convention at Hagood Mill in Pickens County—draw tourists who stay longer and spend more than the average tourist.


The quality, diversity, and sophistication of the arts in our state have the potential to present a very positive image to the nation and the world, and we are working hard with many partners to promote the image of our state as a place that offers many rich cultural opportunities.


On the other hand, I don’t think it will help our image at all if we decide to be the only state in the nation that says no to any investment in the arts for all of its citizens.


Arts folks in this state are well aware of the tough budget situation our state is facing, and we fully expect to take cuts. For example, we know that we will be losing the $250,000 in stimulus funds for grants that we have this year, and we’ve already been cut by almost 50% since 2008.


We have reduced staff, cut operating costs, and eliminated programs. We are working creatively to reduce costs and generate revenue—we are sharing positions with the Department of Archives and History and the State Library, and we are in the process of subleasing some of our office space.


We only ask you to do the best you can for us and for your constituents, and we are confident that you can do better than what the Governor has proposed.