When times get tough, the arts are often the first thing to feel the budget ax. In 2009-2010, the state’s share of funding for the S.C. Arts Commission was $2.9 million. By 2012-2013, it had dropped to $1.9 million.
But as the Legislative Audit Council’s recent assessment of the S.C. Arts Commission says, the arts are an important part of the state’s economic picture. Given the pressures to cut, cut, cut, the public needs to know that.
Members of the House Ways and Means Committee asked the LAC to review operations of the arts commission. And for the most part, the commission fared well under the scrutiny. It is not overstaffed and it is effective.
But there is room for improvement. For example, the commission fell just short of a state requirement that it spend 70 percent of state funds on grants.
The agency missed the mark by 1.1 percent because events to be funded fell through at the last minute.
The number of grants the commission awarded decreased by 30 percent from 2009-2010 to 2011-2012. That was due to funding cuts by the state.
But grants, which are awarded to organizations, to individuals or for events, were nevertheless awarded in almost every county in the state. The commission is charged with serving the entire state.
The LAC recommended that the SCAC reinstitute its random audits of grant recipients to improve the quality control of the granting process. The practice fell by the wayside when funding was cut, but is being done again.
Perhaps the most challenging recommendation by the LAC was that the commission should require grant recipients to provide a direct return to the people of South Carolina.
The Arts Commission, in its response, said its grants improve the quality of arts throughout the state, and make events more affordable, but not necessarily free: “Considering the modest size of many of our grants, we do not think it is reasonable to require that all of our grantees provide free programs or give works of art to the state at no charge.”
The response also noted that the economic impact of the arts in South Carolina is considerable.
The Lowcountry of South Carolina knows that first-hand from the enduring success of the Spoleto Festival.
Dr. Douglas Woodward of the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina confirmed it. He found in 2011 that creative enterprises generate a core impact of $9.2 billion and a full impact (including the value of related goods and services) of $13.3 billion.
Dr. Woodward found that the arts in South Carolina provide 78,000 jobs.
Citizens can enjoy the arts for their beauty and inspiration.
But they can also benefit from the arts’ contributions to the economy.