Legislators and community leaders have joined artists across the state in opposing Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto rejecting funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission. They have argued that supporting the arts is critical to improving education, enhancing our quality of life and bringing us together as a unified community.
Yet while I agree with all these points and join those urging our Legislature to override Gov. Haley’s veto, my concern is more immediate than the degradation of our shared culture. Simply put, I believe that a state with 9.1 percent unemployment cannot afford to put 108,000 creative-economy jobs at risk.
You see, Gov. Haley recently made it clear that she does not believe the Arts Commission is relevant or important. She thinks it’s a charity. She couldn’t be more wrong.
The truth is that the Arts Commission is the cornerstone of an Artistic and Creative Industry Cluster that impacts our state economy to the tune of $13 billion annually.
The truth is that by providing the infrastructure necessary to turn artistic talents into successful businesses, the Arts Commission helped transform $2.4 million in budget and grants into $571.5 million in state tax revenues.
The truth is that reducing the arts to sketch artists and ballet dancers is like saying all Dell builds are expensive calculators.
The truth is that more South Carolinians are employed in our state’s creative economy than in our information, mining and construction industries combined, and while Gov. Haley may be willing to put those jobs at risk, I am not.
You see, in the final analysis, this isn’t just about art. It’s about jobs.
It’s not just about the author who writes a novel. It’s about the editor who edits the novel, the graphic artist who designs the book cover, the printer who prints it and the bookstore owner who sells it.
It’s not just the artist painting a landscape. It’s the art store that sold her the oil and canvas, the frame shop that frames the finished work, the gallery that displays it and the small businessman that buys it to hang in his restaurant.
It’s about music stores and metal workers, furniture makers and architects. It’s about companies like GreatWaves Digital Media in Greenville, The History Press in Charleston and Columbia’s own Caroline Guitar Company. It’s about renting a booth at the S.C. Book Festival and working as a grip on the “Army Wives” set.
Supporting the Arts Commission isn’t about supporting the arts. It’s about supporting the entrepreneurs dedicating themselves to rebuilding our state’s economy.
It’s about supporting the small businesses revitalizing Columbia’s Main Street and giving new life to downtowns across South Carolina.
It’s about supporting the roughly 108,000 men and women who earn a living every day working in our state’s creative industry.
I’ve worked with Gov. Haley on job creation over the last two years, and I pledge to continue that work. But there are 108,000 jobs at stake here, and she is wrong.
I urge our legislators to make it right. I urge them to override the governor’s veto and put the South Carolina Arts Commission back to work growing our creative economy and creating new, high-paying jobs for tomorrow.
Steven Benjamin is mayor of Columbia.