Fort Worth arts programs hope for rejuvenation

12/08/2013 9:00 PM

12/08/2013 9:02 PM

Funding for the arts has been on the chopping block at the federal, state and local levels since 2008, but Jodi Ulich, president of the Fort Worth Arts Council, has been fighting to change that trend.

Using a study by Americans for the Arts showing that the arts in Tarrant County generates $84 million in annual economic activity and supports 3,011 full-time jobs, the Arts Council pushed for increased funding from the Fort Worth City Council after four years of budget cuts.

Though initially another 25 percent cut was expected in 2014, which would have dropped arts funding from $800,000 to $600,000, funding instead jumped to $1.4 million for fiscal year 2014, a 75 percent increase.

As a result, Fort Worth is recognized as a national model for restoring arts funding, said Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy for Americans for the Arts, which is why they invited Ulich to Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of the arts before Congress last month.

Ulich was the only representative from a city nationwide, Cohen said.

“The data itself were excellent. … But really, why Fort Worth stands apart in this case is how they have used the study to increase support for the arts and help the public better understand the value that the arts bring,” Cohen said.

A national model

The study prompted the formation of a task force to study the arts in Tarrant County, said Mayor Betsy Price. The Arts Funding Task Force recommended using oil and gas revenue to increase funding because of its economic impact, Price said.

The Americans for the Arts study of arts in Tarrant County was part of a larger look at the economic impact of the arts nationally. The study revealed that the national arts industry generates $135.2 billion in economic activity and supports 4.1 million full-time jobs.

“A public investment in the arts actually feeds the community,” Ulich said. “Investing in the arts is investing in communities.”

Local government funding for arts decreased by 18 percent since 2008, according to Grantmakers in the Arts.

Cohen hopes Washington lawmakers recognize Fort Worth as an example, even as national arts programs face budget hits.

Step in the right direction

The Arts Council issued about $730,000 in grants to local arts organizations in fiscal year 2013, including $38,000 to the Texas Ballet Theater for general expenses and $124,000 to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra for general expenses.

Though funding for fiscal year 2014 has not yet been issued, Ulich said, some organizations could see their funding double after the increase from the council, and she said they will have additional money to dedicate to neighborhood and youth art programs.

The Arts Council helped fund about 45 organizations in 2013.

“It was the end of a long, long, hard, hard workday,” Ulich said of achieving the additional funding.

When funding for the arts dropped with the rest of the economy is 2008, the Texas Ballet Theater had to forgo live music at performances, except when the private sector donated the $100,000 needed each weekend.

“I think just the expense of it was a very big surprise to the community, and I think that is why you have seen it take this long for live music to return,” said Margo McCann, the ballet’s managing director.

The Texas Ballet Theater, which will open The Nutcracker in Fort Worth on Dec. 13, isn’t alone as they struggle to balance budgets, but McCann said the gradual return to funding levels is a positive sign.

McCann is doubtful live music will make a regular comeback soon, as the added expense is still hard to justify. But, she said, the additional funding from the arts council will go a long way to funding other pressing needs, such as new choreography, costumes and a portable stage.

“We are thrilled. I don’t think people understand what a lean budget we work on,” McCann said. “Fort Worth deserves good art, and I’m glad that Jodi fought the good fight.”

Ulich said she would love to see live music come back to the ballet and for other arts organizations to grow once the 2014 grants are issued.

“We already do have world class art, but all of these people in the symphony, the ballet and the other arts organizations, they live in Fort Worth, they work and they spend their money here in Fort Worth. That money is now coming back into Fort Worth and being reinvested,” Ulich said.

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