March 4 2009 12:00 AM

Local legislators weigh in on governors proposed cuts


By now, if you give a damn about arts funding, you’ve probably already fired off a fiery e-mail, phone call or form letter to Gov. Jennifer Granholm and your representatives in Michigan’s House and Senate, pleading that the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs grant money for Fiscal Year 2010 be reinstated.

Or perhaps you haven’t done anything. State Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D -East Lansing, said she hasn’t gotten as many calls as she expected since the announcement that the $7.9 million in operational funds the state granted in Fiscal Year 2009 for arts organizations (which ranked 39th in the nation, up from 50th the previous year) stand to be zeroed out, leaving $1 million for development projects. “Maybe people aren’t as alarmed as they should be,” Whitmer said. “I expect to hear more, frankly.”

While Whitmer doesn’t serve on any appropriations committees, she said she has always supported the arts and was communicating with her colleagues about the budget negotiations. “The arts are an important part of our quality of life,” Whitmer said. “It’s an important part of where and why people decide to locate in Michigan.”

In the scope of the
state’s projected $1.6 billion deficit for 2010, Whitmer said the state
may be better off finding other ways to save $6.9 million. “It’s a very
small piece of the budget, and it has a big return in terms of quality
of life, so I don’t know if it’s the wisest piece to throw in when
you’re trying to balance such massive deficits as we have,”
Whitmer said.

Like Whitmer, state Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, said she had “huge concerns” over cuts to the arts. “When we look at revitalizing Michigan and getting our young people to come back to Michigan, getting the companies to come here that we want that are the new economy companies … it really isn’t always taxes. It really is the quality of life and the quality of place, and the arts have a huge role in creating that,” Bauer said.

 While she didn’t offer any way the state could better save the money than taking it from the arts, Bauer said she hoped that some general fund money could be made available for the arts once Michigan received its money from President Obama’s economic stimulus package.

State Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, said she has received a dozen or so e-mails a day since word about cutting arts funding got out. Byrum said she would need to review the proposed budget before forming an opinion, which she was in the process of doing.

“We need to tighten our belts, and this is one of the ways the governor suggested balancing the budget,” Byrum said. “She’s also recommended cutting education funding, and this is so indicative of the financial situation our state is in right now. She, of all people, recommended cutting K-12 funding. We are in tough times in our nation, not just our state.” 

Byrum said if state funds aren’t available, it would require communities to get more creative in their efforts to support arts and culture, but that the support would be there.

Efforts to reach state Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, were unsuccessful.

ArtServe Michigan, an arts advocacy group based in the Novi area leading a campaign to oppose the funding cuts, has put together a short list of popular responses (“We need to make tough choices,” etc.) from legislators and suggested return responses to promote an ongoing dialogue. The list is available at

Contacting your legislators

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, District 23 (517) 373-1734 contact.php

Rep. Barb Byrum, 67th District (517) 373-0587 

Rep. Joan Bauer, 68th District (517) 373-0826

Rep. Mark Meadows, 69th District (517) 373-1786