Texas Politics

Texas arts funding at risk, could impact Fort Worth museums

Artist Brian Donnelly visits the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth prior to the opening of “KAWS” exhibit.
Artist Brian Donnelly visits the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth prior to the opening of “KAWS” exhibit. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

State grants last year helped bring two high-dollar art exhibits to town — one that detailed painter Claude Monet’s early years and another that blended pop art, graffiti and culture in “KAWS: Where the End Starts.

Tens of thousands of visitors came to see the exhibits, at the Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum, respectively, generating an economic impact of more than $10 million.

Now the grant money that helped draw the temporary art exhibits to Fort Worth is on the chopping block, as Texas lawmakers struggle to balance a budget during tight economic times.

This comes as the arts community already faces a threat of losing federal dollars, as Congress considers a plan to cut funding for cultural programs such as the National Endowments for the Arts.

Local leaders hope to sway lawmakers, touting the economic impact the arts bring to Texas — particularly the fact that it is a $5.5 billion industry that generates about $344 million in sales tax each year. And they note the other benefits, such as how it betters peoples’ lives, improves student performance and helps with behavioral problems.

“It’s more than just an amenity in life,” said Jennifer Ransom Rice, executive director of the Texas Cultural Trust, an Austin-based group that serves as a voice for the arts. “Until people realize that, it’s easy to look at (the Texas Commission on the Arts) on paper and say, ‘It’s a small agency, just $8 million. We can knock that off and move the money elsewhere.’

“When you pit it against nursing homes ... or firefighters, of course, health and safety and well-being need to be funded.

“But it shouldn’t be ‘either or,’ ” she said. “It’s very short-sighted to cut programs that are revenue generators. The arts are an economic boon to our state.”

Both the House and Senate in Texas have passed budgets cutting funding for the arts over the next two years. A conference committee of lawmakers appointed from both chambers now will craft a final version that the Legislature must sign off on before adjourning May 29.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, said she knows art is important.

“I support the arts and understand how important it is to promote cultural tourism,” she said. “We are still looking for ways to free up revenue for priorities like the arts.”

Another program that could lose money is the state’s film incentives program that was defunded during the House budget debate, when $10 million earmarked for the program was shifted to the state’s Healthy Texas Woman marketing program.

The Senate budget retained funding for this program. It will be up to a conference committee to determine whether or not the program geared to lure movie makers to Texas should receive any funding.

‘Lifeblood of many communities’

Arts leaders locally and across the country hope to fend off the White House’s budget proposal to remove funding for cultural programs and the arts, entities such as the NEA, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Local officials also are trying to convince state lawmakers to reverse a state budget that slashes millions of dollars from cultural districts — including one in Fort Worth — that offer attractions many say boost economic development.

“I think there’s always a faction in government, both at the national and state level ... that view (the arts) as an unnecessary function of government,” said Dale Brock, a Fort Worth man recently named by Gov. Greg Abbott to chair the Texas Commission on the Arts.

But he and others hope to show lawmakers that this funding is worthwhile and needed.

If they are not successful, the cuts could have a big impact on some Texas communities, arts leaders say.

“Cultural enrichment through programs and art are the lifeblood of many communities, including Fort Worth, and if funding is reduced or removed, there is a reverberation across a city’s artistic and intellectual core,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

“Cuts limit the opportunities for those families with modest budgets and school districts who rely on established cultural institutions for artistic enrichment.”

Minus $5 million

In 2015, the Legislature earmarked around $5 million for the Texas Commission on the Arts to develop a competitive grant program to boost economic development in fine arts and cultural districts in 2016 and 2017.

Officials now say that grant money was a “one-time funding increase.”

This session, “both House and Senate versions of the budget have returned funding to $1,340,000 for the (2018-19) biennium,” said RJ DeSilva, a budget board spokesman.

The one-time funding was news to arts leaders, who say they were told by state officials to leave the millions of dollars for grants in their budget request.

“It was not intended to be a one-time designation,” Rice said. “We were dumbfounded when the budget came out.”

Nelson and other lawmakers say funding for the arts — and other needs — has not been finalized.

“Last session we were able to increase funding,” Nelson said. “We return to FY 14-15 levels in the Senate budget, but this is still a work in progress.”

Fort Worth grants

Local art officials say the state grants — which provided $450,000 each to the Kimbell and Modern last year — paid off in Fort Worth.

The exhibit detailing Monet’s early years, which displayed paintings of water and reflection and modern life, last year drew tens of thousands of visitors to the Kimbell Art Museum and had an economic impact of about $10 million to Tarrant County, a study shows.

“The return on the investment is large,” said Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell. “These grants help us bring exhibitions such as the Monet show to Texas. It would have been more difficult to bring the show here without the funding.”

Above and beyond the monetary impact is the impact the exhibit had on the city’s art reputation, he said.

“This is an exhibition that received rave critical reviews literally all over the world,” Lee said. “It helped burnish the reputation of the city. It was a great thing for Fort Worth.”

At the same time, the “KAWS: Where the End Starts” exhibit drew around 100,000 visitors to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, boosting local hotel bookings and sales at the Modern Shop and Cafe Modern.

“We used the funding to underwrite the presentation of the ‘KAWS’ exhibition Oct. 20, 2016-Jan. 22, 1017,” said Kendal Smith Lake, manager of communications at the Modern Art Museum. “Shipping and installation costs were extensive.”

Officials said the 100,000 visitors drawn to the museum for this exhibit is key, particularly since the total annual museum attendance is around 200,000.

More than 77 percent of attendance for the exhibit came from within Texas. But 1,266 visitors were from outside the United States, including Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico and Turkey, Lake said.

While the exhibit was up, the museum-hotel package with the Omni Hotel downtown jumped nearly 300 percent. And sales tax revenue from The Modern Shop and Cafe Modern increased by more than $150,000, Lake said.

“Cutting funds to cultural institutions is always worrisome, as most exhibitions cost significantly more to present than the potential of earned revenue through ticket sales,” Lake said. “It is important that these exhibitions be offered to the public and accessible.”

‘Strong appetite for the arts’

The Texas Legislature’s regular session wraps up Memorial Day.

Brock, the Texas Commission on the Arts’ chairman, said there’s time to work out the arts funding crunch and he hopes lawmakers will dip into the Rainy Day Fund to consistently fund arts and other state programs during the highs and lows of the state’s economy.

The inconsistent funding of grants, he said, “demoralizes that constituency.”

“People want consistency in funding,” Brock said. “It’s a good policy to avoid wild swings in funding.”

He and other arts leaders are reaching out to lawmakers, asking them to restore funding to last year’s levels, trying, he said, “to make the case for how it makes good economic sense to restore this funding.”

The current budget cuts, if they stand, could hit Fort Worth harder than many other cities.

“Fort Worth sets the bar for a lot of cities regarding the cultural environment,” Brock said. “It impacts us more than others because people have a strong appetite for the arts here.

“People come here for that reason.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Cultural Districts

Texas lawmakers in 2005 gave the Texas Commission on the Arts the go-ahead to designate cultural districts across the state, with the goal of using cultural landmarks to boost economic development and spur community revitalization.

There are more than 35 cultural districts, which include attractions such as museums or performance venues. Grants have been used to help these areas grow or thrive, funding everything from marketing to festivals.

A cultural district was designated for Fort Worth in 2010. It includes the Kimbell Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the Will Rogers Memorial Center as well as Casa Mañana.

Last year, a cultural district was designated in Arlington, including areas south and west of the Arlington entertainment district. It includes Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, the Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys stadiums and other attractions.

Source: Texas Commission on the Arts, The Tourism Economic Impact of Cultural District Grant Funding