BY MICHAEL NOYES
HELENA – Supporters of the Montana Arts Council made their case for funding in front of lawmakers during a Joint Subcommittee on Education meeting Wednesday morning.
The organization receives around $450,000 a year from the general fund, another $200,000 from the coal tax, and $800,000 from the federal government, according to Montana Arts Council Executive Director Arlynn Fishbaugh.
According to their mission statement, the Montana Arts Council is an agency of state government that was, “established to develop the creative potential of all Montanans, advance education, spur economic vibrancy and revitalize communities through involvement in the arts.”
Those who spoke stressed the economic and social impacts of the organization’s programs.
“The arts are very important to the business community in the state and are a significant business in their own right,” said Wayne Hirsch, regional president for U.S. Bank. “Arts and cultural organizations are community partners.”
Fishbaugh said a push to eliminate the Arts Council around 1994 resulted in the group refocusing their efforts.
“For something to be worthy of state investment, there has to be a return on public investment funds,” she said.
The arts bring in $4.5 million in tax revenue to the state, Fishbaugh told legislators.
Republican House Member Bob Wagner, of Harrison, requested the organization provide figures about how much the state provided in tax refunds for art donations. Wagner said he understood the value of the arts.
“The structure of how we fund it has to make business sense,” said Wagner.
Democrat Senator Brad Hamlett, of Cascade, said the testimony from Arts Council supporters was “very compelling.”
“Keeping kids engaged in school is very important,” Hamlett said.
Rob Quist, founder of the Mission Mountain Woodband, told lawmakers stories of children that saw their involvement improve after participating in art programs.
“Participating in the arts bring confidence and self-esteem,” Quist said.
During a break in the session, Republican House Member Roy Hollandsworth, of Brady, said he would oppose eliminating funding for the group but said funding could be cut.
“They know there’s going to be cuts,” Hollandsworth said. “Everybody’s going to share in the pain…the idea is we peal it like an onion.”
After their testimony supporters of the Montana Arts Council passed out loaves of homemade bread to legislators made from wheat grown in Montana.