Missouri Citizens for the Arts supplies the critical component of arts advocacy for the arts in our state, especially for the funding of Missouri Arts Council. The Letter Project was a statewide letter-writing project that MCA created to reach across all socio-economic, urban-rural and big city-small community borders to tell legislators just how valuable the arts are to Missourians. Over 1,000 letters were delivered to Governor Jay Nixon in December, 2015, making a powerful case for arts funding.
Michael Donovan, Executive Director of Missouri Arts Council, referenced The Letter Project during an interview with KCUR in Kansas City:
The Missouri Arts Council, which funnels money to arts organizations around the state, will see a $1.2 million for its fiscal year 2017. That will put MAC’s state funding at $6 million, up from $4.8 million. It’s the first increase in several years.
“We are grateful that the governor and legislators recognize the value of the arts to the state,: says Donovan. “There was a lot of strong advocacy from arts organizations,” he added, noting that more than 1,000 letters were sent to the governor’s office through a campaign led by Missouri Citizens for the Arts.
This year’s increase doesn’t necessarily reflect greater enthusiasm in the legislature for public funding of the arts, however. The Missouri Arts Council is funded through an income tax on professional athletes and entertainers who visit the state to play and perform (It also receives money from the National Endowment for the Arts).
What’s known as the Non-resident Athletes and Entertainers Tax (A&E) generates significant revenue–an estimated $40 million this fiscal year. According to state law, MAC is supposed to receive 60 percent of those dollars–which would be about $24 million this year. But the General Assembly has funneled most of it to pay for other things, leaving MAC with this year’s $6 million. (In 2015, KCUR followed Kansas City arts leaders to Jefferson City, where they unsuccessfully asked lawmakers to fully fund the Cultural Trust.)
“We’re getting about 25 percent of what the statute suggests that we should be getting,” Donovan says. In recent years, the legislature had asked MAC to spend down the balance in an account known as the Cultural Trust, which holds the revenues from the A&E tax.
“We were spending money out of the Cultural Trust and continued to do that until this year, when the balance of the trust money was less than 1 percent,” Donovan says. “So our funding was going down, our costs were going up, and the non-resident athletes and entertainers tax had gone up dramatically. It doubled in the last 10 years.”
Still, he says, this year’s increase will make a difference for arts organizations throughout the state. “We’re going to be able to make sure that the arts are available throughout the state, both in rural and metropolitan areas. We know there’s a lot of art in Kansas City and St. Louis, but we’re increasingly able to get into the rural areas in outstate Missouri.”
The interview was conducted by C.J. Janovy, arts reporter for KCUR.