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Arts funding goes sideways for 9th straight year

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The Harmony Choir from the Elizabeth‑based Institute of Music for Children opens the July 24 New Jersey State Council on the Arts meeting.
The Harmony Choir from the Elizabeth‑based Institute of Music for Children opens the July 24 New Jersey State Council on the Arts meeting. - ()

New governor, same story: the New Jersey State Council on the Arts is being funded at roughly the same level as in the prior year – yet again.

“We are level-funded for the ninth year in a row,” said Allison Tratner, the council’s interim executive director.

The council earlier this month disclosed who will get a piece of the $15.7 million in grants to be awarded this year. That’s actually $700,000 less than the arts funding in the previous fiscal year, representing a dip of 4 percent in the pool of money to be divvied up among more than 700 organizations, projects and individuals.

But arts funding has declined markedly in many states, so even managing to tread water is considered an accomplishment.

“New Jersey is among the most well-resourced,” Tratner said. “But there’s a lot of amazing arts activity and artists going on in the state that could benefit from additional support.”

Groups getting grants include arts education, crafts, dance, folk arts, literature, media arts, music, opera and musical theater, visual and local arts, culture and history.

Among the bigger awards: $298,817 to the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair; $626,820 to the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton; $1 million to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark; $719,409 to Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn; and $1 million to Newark-based New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

The council doles out much smaller grants to individual artists and more local projects and groups.

“That money might make the difference in surviving as a small arts organization,” said Thomas Carto, CEO and of the State Theatre in New Brunswick.

Grant recipients spent an estimated $275 million in New Jersey last year. They employed 25,000 individuals and attracted 7.5 million patrons, who spent $232 million in the state.

Elsewhere on the funding front, the National Endowment for the Arts in May announced $1.3 million in grants for 15 New Jersey organizations. The state arts council got most of the money in an $892,500 award.

“New Jersey is among the most well-resourced. But there’s a lot of amazing arts activity and artists going on in the state that could benefit from additional support.”

— Allison Tratner, interim executive director, New Jersey State Council on the Arts

“This funding helps ensure that we are able to support artists, organizations and communities throughout New Jersey,” said New Jersey State Council Chair Elizabeth Mattson. “The impact of this investment cannot be understated.”

Another $100,000 went to the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership, to support its ArtsEdNow project aimed at expanding arts education across the state.

The NEA also awarded $50,000 to coLAB Arts Inc., a New Brunswick-based organization that plans to partner with the city to support artist residencies.

“Artists will create original works of art, ranging from podcasts to public art, employing their creative talents to serve the mission of community organizations,” coLAB said.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-37th District, who serves as the state arts council’s ex-officio member, said she seeks to ensure that dedicated arts money isn’t siphoned off for other state uses. That can be key, as the New Jersey Council on the Arts is funded by revenue from the state’s hotel/motel occupancy tax and not a separate budgetary appropriation.

“When you look at the hotel/motel occupancy tax, we need to really make sure that that portion is being directly funded to the arts council and not diverted,” Huttle said.

New Jersey places a 5 percent levy on most room rentals and a lower rate in towns with similar local taxes such as Atlantic City, Jersey City, Newark and the Wildwoods. The tax is also used to fund the New Jersey Historical Commission, New Jersey Cultural Trust and tourism advertising.

Lawmakers enacted the tax for the 2004 fiscal year after then-Gov. James McGreevey eliminated all direct funding to arts agencies.

Of the $108 million the tax garnered in the 2018 fiscal year, the arts council received $16.4 million, the historical commission $2.7 million, cultural trust $500,000 and promotion and advertising of tourism and travel received $9 million. The rest went to the general fund.

The prior year, the state took in $101.2 million from the hotel/motel occupancy tax, and the arts council received $16.4 million.

New Jersey law sets minimum standards for how much of the revenue has to go toward the arts, tourism and cultural agencies, and for years the state has allocated only those minimums.

The governor’s office said it’s committed to “arts and local schools’ arts programs.”

“This year’s budget contributes to the arts council and the governor looks forward to continuing to work towards restoring our state as a leading supporter of the arts, including highlighting residents of our state who make artistic contributions,” said Liza Acevedo, deputy press secretary in the governor’s office.

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Daniel J. Munoz

Daniel J. Munoz


Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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