LANSING — Funding for arts and culture in Michigan received a $1 million bump for 2018.
Bringing the total state budget allocation for arts and cultural programs up to $10.7 million signals a recognition by state lawmakers of the importance of events and programming such as music festivals and art centers — and of the arts in schools across Michigan, according to industry sources.
“The state legislature and Gov. Snyder’s administration have been very good to us,” said John Bracey, executive director of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA). “In 2010, we were only granted $1.7 million and we were on the brink of elimination. From that time, we’ve gotten a few increases here and there and leveled out at that $9.7 million level.”
Bracey said he thinks the increases are due to his organization’s focus on non-partisanship and providing access to arts and culture on a statewide level. Grant money went into every state senate district and all but two state house districts.
“Our mission is to provide access, and I think that the state legislature and current administration really appreciated those efforts,” Bracey said. “We do it in a really transparent way.”
Once the applications are received, about 130 peer review panelists divide into different panels to assess the submissions. This year it took 27 days for the application review process.
In 2012, MCACA received 238 grant applications, Bracey said. This year that number was 633.
Some organizations did not receive any funding, while others were given between 45 percent and 90 percent of the total grant they were seeking.
Grand Rapids-based Artists Creating Together asked for $30,000 and received $27,000, or 90 percent of its total request. Executive Director Angela Steele said she is thankful for MCACA’s support of her organization’s efforts to continue to bring arts and cultural programming and education to individuals with disabilities.
“This funding is critical for our annual sustainability and enables us to bring our resources where they are needed most,” Steele said. “In the past year, we launched a new apprentice program for transition students and began to bring classes in three art forms to the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, in addition to the programs we’ve hosted for years that impact over 6,000 individuals annually.”
The West Michigan Horticultural Society, which operates the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, applied for two grants totaling $160,000 and received $124,000. Anne Benson, director of development and membership for Meijer Gardens, said the grant awards will help her organization meet its $115 million financial goal and also pay for operating expenses that could be anything from the “super-exciting” Ai Weiwei exhibition to buying light bulbs.
Benson said a portion of the $115 million goal is being used to construct the Covenant Learning Center, which will promote horticulture and sculpture through educational programming housed in two classrooms, in addition to interactive exhibition areas for families and children.
“We do try to serve underserved communities,” Benson said. “We have schools from all over the state and we also have scholarships to cover costs such as transportation. The more space we have, the more serving we can do.”
As critical as the money is, Benson said receiving MCACA funding also serves as a validation of the important work done by organizations like hers.
Bracey said MCACA doesn’t get involved in the inner workings of an organization’s program focus or who they serve, preferring instead to let those seeking grants tell MCACA what they need. He said the review panels really liked grant proposals that included improvements to make facilities more accessible for individuals with physical challenges.
“Other than that, it was pretty even across the board,” Bracey said. “I worry about certain disciplines because they’re so focused on making sure the next show happens. Are the theater or dance organizations paying close enough attention to the grant-making side as well as the artistic side?
“Sometimes I worry that colleges and universities are not paying close enough attention to how they’re interacting with the public in general. Applications that come to us with a project that is only going to benefit students on campus usually don’t do very well.”
Although a few colleges and universities such as Calvin College and Michigan State University received grants, they were greatly outnumbered by school districts throughout the state and programs specifically for youth.
As a regranting agency for MCACA funding, the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo gave out $29,200 in mini-grants to organizations in the six-county area it serves. The recipients included the Bloomingdale Steel Drum Program, a film festival for children in Berrien County, and a jazz music program for the Kalamazoo Public Schools.
A number of the overall grant awards went for programs that will give residents of rural communities greater exposure and access to art and cultural opportunities. Among the newest examples is the “Arts and Eats Tour,” a self-driving tour of Allegan and Barry counties and the surrounding rural region, which features partner organizations collaborating to offer experiences in art, local food and agriculture.
“Stuff like that is popping up in terms of supporting rural artists and the south county area,” said Kristen Chesak, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo. “I don’t think we’re getting more asks from rural communities, but we are getting more requests from organizations serving rural communities.”
No matter where the money goes, proponents of arts and culture in Michigan said the economic and social impact cannot and should not be discounted.
Benson said Meijer Gardens contributes $75 million to Kent County based on the results of an economic impact study conducted last fall. She said organizations like Experience Grand Rapids always bring representatives from potential new businesses in to tour the gardens and sculpture park as a way to attract people to the area.
Importantly, when an elected representative gets a call from a constituent saying that an arts or cultural opportunity is important to the community they live in, Bracey said lawmakers pay attention.
“Economic development is a battle where you’re fighting for companies to relocate and to attract and retain a talented workforce,” Bracey said. “Of course, you have to talk about arts and culture and what that means to the quality of life.”
Chesak said this will mean doing away with the notion that arts and culture is a fringe benefit.
“It’s not just entertainment, it’s something that folks engage in every day,” she said. “It helps us develop critical thinking and engage in civil discourse in thoughtful and meaningful ways. It makes us a healthier society.”