Message from Fairbanks Arts' Executive Director, Jess Peña
Dear friends, colleagues, and neighbors–
I want to talk about elimination of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, what this means, next steps, and what we need EVERYONE to do.
Friday's announcement of $680 million in cuts to state institutions, programs, and services was a devastating blow for our state. During Governor Dunleavy's Friday press conference, in which he announced more than $400 million in cuts (on top of a staggering $280 million in cuts agreed upon in the legislature), we learned that among these vetoes is funding for the Alaska State Council on the Arts– meaning elimination of this state agency .

These cuts are significant and will impact the life of each Alaskan; here you can find a rundown of the vetoed items or a complete list of all 182 vetoed line items, on which education, health, social services, and more are represented. Today I want to share information about one of these line items– the Alaska State Council on the Arts. For the modest amount of state funds allocated to the agency, the negative ripple effect of its absence will be significant and we have one more shot to save it.

Before I get started– if you are in a rush, here is a 1-page summary of the important points and what you can do . If you have 10 minutes and want to know more about the context surrounding this issue of collective interest, please read on.
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First of all, what is a state arts agency?
All 50 states in the U.S., and its six jurisdictions, have a state arts agency. The charge of a state arts agency is to ensure that communities receive the civic, economic, educational, and cultural benefits of the arts, and they belong to all of us. They are governed by a council of citizen leaders who oversee their work and broad public engagement is critical to the success of planning, grant allocations, and programs that respond to the needs of the public.

Programs and support from state arts agencies facilitate:
health and healing | artist opportunities | educational success | economic growth | inclusion and equity | reaching low income and rural communities | enlivening public spaces |
and so. much. more.

The ways in which a state arts agency accomplishes these things may look different in each state, depending on the needs of the state's communities.
Here are some things to know about our state agency, the Alaska State Council on the Arts–
The Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA) was established in 1967 thanks in part to some of Fairbanks Arts Association's very own founders. Their mission? ASCA represents, supports and advances the creative endeavors of individuals, organizations and agencies throughout Alaska. They successfully do this and more with a modest state allocation, a powerhouse staff of 4.5 (five when the going is good), a widespread network of partners and supporters, and the confidence of our policymakers, institutions, and foundations here at home and beyond.

Here are some nuts and bolts ASCA facts:
  • ASCA falls under the Department of Education and Early Development.
  • A list of ASCA's citizen leaders (trustees) can be found here (please note, two ASCA trustees whose terms are up at the end of this month were just replaced by the Governor within the last month).
  • ASCA, like every other state arts agency in the nation, receives funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. A requirement of receiving these federal funds is that the formula-determined allocation MUST be matched 1:1 by the state. Should state funding dip below the NEA allocation, ALL federal funding goes away. The necessity of the state contribution to maintain federal funding, combined with the impressive return on the state's investment, had kept ASCA funding safe within the Alaska Legislature prior to Governor Dunleavy's June 28th veto.
  • In the midst of a changing fiscal climate, ASCA leadership has not been idle. In 2017, a restructuring initiative for ASCA was brought before the Alaska Legislature that altered the agency to become a public corporation. This action allowed it to be more nimble and adaptive and to better leverage private funding opportunities, thus becoming less reliant on state funds while maintaining the transparency required of a state agency. Today, the state and federal funds going to ASCA represent less than half of the overall budget – the rest (about 55%) comes from private, non-governmental sources including Alaskan and national foundations which invest in Alaska for the benefit of all Alaskans.
  • ASCA's FY2019 state appropriation of $692,800 comprised 0.015% of Alaska state general fund expenditures, just over 1-100th of 1% of all state spending.
  • For every $1 that ASCA awards, grantees (like Fairbanks Arts) secure an additional $27 in local match, private contributions and earned income.

Here is a noncomprehensive list of ASCA programs and services:

  • Creative Forces, a partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, serves members of the U.S. military who have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Grants for arts organizations and individual artists help create micro-economies in each Alaskan community.
  • The Alaska Contemporary Art Bank purchases art from Alaska artists and loans the art to agencies around the state, including the Governor’s office and the Alaska Court system.
  • The Percent for Art program commissions public art for state buildings.
  • The Alaska State Writer program is currently a partnership program with the Alaska Humanities Forum and recognizes the contributions of an Alaskan writer and supports a project of their choosing during the two-year term.
  • Poetry Out Loud is a national poetry recitation competition among high school students in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • The Alaska Silver Hand program offers a seal of authentication for Native artists, adding a competitive edge in the art market and helping protect the livelihood of Native artists by dissuading sales of fake Native art.
  • The Artists in Schools residency program has provided students, artists, and educators with unique learning experiences since 1969.
The path to where we are now...
In February, the governor's budget called for elimination of ASCA and through subsequent legislative deliberation the Alaska Legislature restored ASCA's funding. During the House Finance meeting where ASCA funding was on the table, Fairbanks area Representatives Wilson and LeBon both voted in support of funding ASCA, noting that the agency has been a model in striving for more fiscal independence (the ideal situation), and maintaining state funding is critical to their ability to do so.

And of course, the most recent development is the governor's June 28th veto of the agency as determined through legislative process. The line item noted in the vetoes is $2.8 million for ASCA as well the removal of ASCA's ability to pass on $1.1 million in grants from private foundations. It is important to note that, of the amounts listed above, only around $700,000 is funding that comes from the State of Alaska.

As a result of this veto action, Monday, July 1st is the final day of funding for the agency with its doors due to close on July 15, after 52 years of service to the state of Alaska. As a result:

  • The above listed programs will cease.
  • Alaska becomes the only state in the nation without a state arts agency and federal funds meant to serve Alaskans will be redistributed among other states.
  • Recently approved ASCA FY20 grants to organizations, artists, and school districts will not be paid.
  • Over 400 pieces of art from the Alaska Contemporary Art Bank will be recalled and deaccessioned.
  • $1.5 million in private foundation funds currently coming to ASCA and meant to serve Alaskans (again, more than twice the current state investment) will be rejected and returned to the would-be benefactors. 

And what about our community?

First, it is important to understand the impact of the arts in our area– in FY-16, arts attendees in Fairbanks alone contributed $9.3 million to the North Star Borough economy in conjunction with their cultural participation. Additionally, nonprofit arts activities returned $805 million in revenue to local government and $1.3 million in revenue to the Alaska state government. This is substantial, and facilitated in part by modest grants to organizations and individuals from ASCA.

  • Fairbanks Arts Association's Artists in Schools program is funded by the Alaska State Council on the Arts with matching funds from the the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District (a stipulation of this grant). Fairbanks Arts manages the AIS program on behalf of FNSB and pairs teaching artists with schools for several weeks of residency each year, serving thousands of students with some truly exceptional educational experiences. With ASCA defunded, the Artists in Schools program will go away. Young people lose out on amazing learning experiences that augment their education, teaching artists lose a source of income, and teachers lose access to an avenue for integrating arts into their classroom – one of the most effective ways to boost student success.

  • Several arts organizations in Fairbanks (and around the state) receive operating funds from ASCA. This will mean staffing and program changes for Fairbanks Arts Association, and while I cannot speak for my colleagues, it may impact other local ASCA grantees in a similar fashion (Fairbanks Concert Association, Fairbanks Symphony Association, Fairbanks Drama Association, Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, and North Star Dance Foundation all receive ASCA funds).
Why should we care?
The arts are a recovery asset during tough times. The arts are often looked at when there are difficult budget conversations at hand, but even during recessions states have continued to fund the arts because:
  • They are an economic driver that stimulates commerce, supports jobs, and in our state that benefits highly from the tourism industry– leads to travelers having repeat visits, staying longer, and spending more.

  • Educational and civic challenges escalate during trying times and the arts serve to build connections, spur on dialogue among diverse voices and expand perspectives and understanding.
  • The arts are a force for healing and recovery and are critical to building community resiliency.
And when money is the concern, the arts make business sense.

The arts are a growth economy in Alaska, contributing $3.1 billion to the state economy at a time when other sectors are shrinking.

What happens next? We need to act!
There is a lot at stake here with not much time to reach out to legislators. There are many services and programs integral to our communities at risk and it is too easy in a situation like this to scramble over which thing is more important to protect. It is all important, and I hope you feel better equipped to talk about one of them now.

TIMELINE FOR ACTION: Legislators must agree to overturn any vetoes from the governor by the end of the fifth day of special session, the deadline is July 12 .

The Alaska Legislature approved a budget that included ASCA. Their decision to approve $3.9 million in combined state, federal, and private funds was a sound policy and fiscal decision. Please call and write your legislators and make the advocacy case for sticking to this decision by overriding the veto to ASCA. Ask your friends to do the same. Share and share widely. Every voice matters. We all feel strongly about the issues at hand and the future of our state and now is a critical time for focused and constructive dialogue with our policymakers and one another.

Here is a link to the state's Public Opinion Message System (limit of 50 words) - please note that this is a fast way to contact multiple legislators, but it may be glitchy. If you encounter technical issues, do not give up! Here is a list of all legislators' contact information for a more manual approach. Should you need it, here are the links for the House and Senate pages .
And last, but certainly not least, thank you for the ways in which you engage in your community today and every day.

A fellow Alaskan