On July 6, Governor Nikki Haley vetoed 81 items in the South Carolina Budget, totaling over $65 million dollars in cuts. In a time of growth in the state and a critical “tipping point” for many municipalities, businesses and families to emerge from the dog days of the recession, Gov. Haley has, with the flick of her pen, eliminated funding for items such as: increases in teacher pay raises; a veterans memorial; two African American historical projects; operating costs for the state’s farmer’s market; infrastructure funding for recruiting new businesses to the state; and crippling, eliminating and shunning two state agencies – the Sea Grant Consortium and the South Carolina Arts Commission.

In her 2011 State of the State Address, Gov. Haley lined her sights on the South Carolina Arts Commission and SC ETV and publicly denounced state funding for these two agencies – ironically, the State of the State was filmed and broadcasted on none other than SCETV. Once the Legislature passed it’s landmark budget – eliminating millions and trimming the state’s expenditures to reflect many difficulties given the economy at the time – and one that included funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission [SCAC] and ETV – Gov. Haley, as promised vetoed both agencies’ funding. After huge advocacy efforts – many of them jointly between the arts community and the ETV community, both agencies had their respective vetoes overturned by the state Legislature. In fact, of the 35 vetoes in 2011 from Haley, the state Legislature overturned all but nine.

In 2012, the arts community in South Carolina, encouraged by the growing support from House and Senate members – on both sides of the aisle – began working with legislators and arts leaders to solidify the arts’ place at the table. Through large advocacy efforts from the SC Arts Alliance, SC Alliance for Arts Education and arts supporters across the state, paired with the open ears and arms of many state legislators and their efforts to relate the arts to beneficial policy, the SC Arts Commission came out of the 2012 budget process with level funding ($1.9 million) and an additional $500,000 in one-time funding earmarked specifically for grants. This was all accomplished with little to no opposition from Republican and Democratic legislators alike. In fact, the SCAC budget passed the House with a vote of 91-0 and cleared both the Senate and Conference Committee (the group that works out the differences between both versions of the budget) with flying colors.

But all of this is null and void if the House and Senate do not overturn Veto #1 and Veto #21, which eliminate the South Carolina Arts Commission entirely, when they return for a special session July 17 & 18.

The timing of these vetoes comes at a very interesting time. In 2011, Douglas Woodward, Ph.D of USC’s Darla Moore School of Business released a study proving how South Carolina’s “Creative Cluster” (the group of for-profit, nonprofit, and individual businesses pertaining to the arts, culture and design) has always been, and has become an even stronger catalyst for economic development throughout the state. According to the study, available on the Arts Commission’s website, the creative industries in SC contribute over $9.2 billion to the state’s economy annually, support over 78,000 jobs and return over $570 million in tax revenue to the state’s coffers. The argument for economic impact is a heavily reported and studied field as it pertains to the arts across the country, and time and time again the results show that the arts are essential to improving economic impact. The national advocacy group, Americans for the Arts, also released their newly updated “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV” which targeted the economic impact specifically of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences. Nationally, nonprofit arts organizations, exactly like the ones supported by SCAC grants, have a total economic impact of over $135 billion, support over 4 million jobs and return over $22 billion in tax revenue. Additionally, a May 2012 report from the National Governors Association entitled “New Engines of Growth: Five Roles for Arts, Culture and Design” points to a direct correlation between a healthy and vibrant arts scene, and a thriving community and state. The report, which apparently was either not seen by Gov. Nikki Haley or completely ignored by her and her staff, indicates that the arts, culture and designs fields “can assist states with economic growth” by providing a fast-growth, dynamic industry cluster; help mature industries become more competitive; provide the critical ingredients for innovative places; and deliver a better-prepared workforce. All qualities that other states seem to benefit from, but that SC can longer seek to pursue.

Yet, regardless of the current data relating the arts to economic growth, Gov. Haley has for the second year in a row, eliminated the only state agency focused on utilizing the arts to better the state. The Governor seems to forget the story of how the Peace Center changed Greenville forever; or how Spoleto Festival helped turn Charleston from one of the most dangerous cities in America to the 2011 Top Tourist Destination in the nation and in the Top 5 internationally; or how the small arts groups and municipalities of cities such as Greenwood, Summerville, Greer, Fountain Inn and right here in Mauldin are changing what were vacant downtowns and industrial neighborhoods into growing and thriving destinations. But most importantly, she doesn’t seem to understand how the SC Arts Commission is a critical, essential, necessary and needed link in all of the successes the arts have brought to the state.

The SCAC is funded by tax-payer dollars. That is no secret. The proposed budget for 2012 put the SCAC at a total funding level of $1.9 million (Veto #1) plus an additional $500,000 in one-time grant money (Veto #21). From the 2011 budget, the SCAC has been required to always spend 70%, or more, of its total appropriations on grants for organizations across the state. For 2012, that total number would be $1,330,000 in grant money PLUS the $500,000 one-time funding earmarked for grants, bringing the total amount of grant money available from the state government to $1,830,000. But that’s not the end of the line, as the Governor seems to think. The SCAC, in addition to state funding, receives matching federal funding of over $1 million from the National Endowment for the Arts, money which REQUIRES a state government commitment. Furthermore, the SCAC receives private funding from individual donors via the SC Arts Foundation, a nonprofit which raises money in support of the SCAC. And on top of all of this, every grant made by the SCAC requires a 1:1 match from the benefitting organization; meaning every dollar to a project is at least doubled in the local community where the grant was made. However, as of July 6, 2012 – every penny listed here is in limbo and may never benefit our community again.

What baffles me the most is the lack of understanding from Gov. Haley when it comes to supporting the arts. Gov. Haley touts her record of helping bring large corporations to the state every day on her Facebook page, praises efficiency in state agencies, and has a tremendous amount of pride for communities that prosper. Ironically though, she turns around and eliminates one of the only agencies who plays a role in everything she loves. Grants made by the SCAC help support projects across the state that improve the quality of life for all residents. There’s a reason Boeing chose Charleston, why BMW chose Greenville, why Google chose Goose Creek – along with the great tax benefits and other benefits given to those companies by the state, all of those cities offer entertainment options for their employees. It’s proven that people who work in the field of engineering, technology, design and other creative fields prefer to live in areas with a vibrant arts scene. A healthy arts agency – and the mere presence of an arts agency – demonstrates to companies that the state is committed to making communities a great location for their employees to live and play. In terms of efficiency, I urge you to find another state agency that has an almost 38:1 return on investment when you measure economic impact and state revenue as the SCAC does. It’s pretty clear that a better community means better arts, and a better state requires a commitment to the arts.

But perhaps the best reason to support the arts comes from President Ronald Reagan, who stated in 1985 while giving out the first ever National Medal of Arts, an award Reagan himself requested be created just two years prior:

Where there’s liberty, art succeeds.”

As Executive Director of the Mauldin Cultural Center, Co-Founder of the SC Young Professionals Arts Network, and Board Member of the SC Arts Alliance, I urge you to keep liberty alive in SC so as to allow the arts to succeed, and in turn our communities. I ask that you email, call, mail or tweet your local State Representative and Senator, and tell them to overturn Veto #1 and Veto #21 to keep the South Carolina Arts Commission alive. The arts are an integral part of our state, our communities and our lives – if we want to continue to grow, explore, create and innovate, we need the arts.

– George Patrick McLeer, Jr.