Talk of the Arts

Talk of the Arts

Will Peter Shumlin become known as the “Arts Governor” of Vermont?

shumlin 200As reported in Seven Days in December, Burlington City Arts Director Doreen Kraft, said that Shumlin told her that he wanted to be he first “arts Governor” since Madeleine Kunin.  

We’d like to see  that happen, but with the State facing a budget deficit of $150 million we wonder what will happen to the arts.

According to Vermont Arts Council Executive Director, Alex Aldrich, in a recent blog, “The state of Vermont has many ways to increase its revenues (taxes on in- come, property, sales and use, room and meals; fees for hunting, driving, fishing, camping and other services; and many other things too tedious to mention here). But a recent study (from Doug Hoffer courtesy of Melinda Moulton) shows that the revenue impact of the arts sector on the State of Vermont is close to $19.5 million—or about $17 million MORE than the state invests in the arts through various agencies. This is an ROI of nearly 800%…every year!

Through several phone calls to a couple of Vermont’s best known “art towns” Aldrich reports: “the aggregate of local investment is less than $500,000.* This figure, combined with the State’s investment in the arts (including appropriations from the General and Capital Funds, and line items for the Vermont Symphony, Humanities Council, and Historical Society, results in a total State/Local investment of less than $2.5 million.

This return says Aldrich, “takes place regardless of the fact that the Department of Marketing and Tourism, at least up until now, has not promoted the arts as part of the Vermont Brand. With the notable exception of Vermont Life magazine the state has done very little to publicize the arts in Vermont.”

Another aspect of economic recovery requires one to think slightly more holistically about what kinds of things generate investments that lead jobs. Why do people choose to live and work in one town and not another? Why do people choose to establish a business in Vermont and not in New Hampshire or New York?

Aldrich continues: “According to people like Richard Florida, more than ever, people can live where they want because technology has enabled them to telecommute. As more and more of Ver- mont gets broadband, the more Vermont will become attractive to telecommuters. But broadband is only a piece of the “where to live” decision. Equally important are the availability of housing stock, the quality of the local shopping, the access to high quality recreational and cultural opportunities and, perhaps most important of all, the quality of the local schools. These last two, cul- tural opportunities and quality of schools are di- rectly related to the health of the cultural sector. The healthier and more vibrant the arts in a com- munity, the better the cultural and educational opportunities will be. And if those are good, then you’ve got really compelling reasons for entrepre- neurs to move in, establish roots, and start em- ploying people.”

Let’s trust that Governor Shumlin is serious about becoming the “arts Governor” of Vermont. It could be just what the doctor ordered.

*Burlington leads all towns and municipalities with direct grants and services to arts organizations and activities totaling about $350,000. Coming in a surprising, though very distant second, is Killington whose local arts investment is about $27,500. Jericho is third at $10,000. Most Vermont municipalities and towns have no direct support for the arts, and of those that do, the investment is usually manifested through the Recreation department budget and ranges between a few hundred dollars and $2,500.

Lynn Barrett, publisher/editor prime@svcable.net

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