What Happens When Arts Funding Gets Cut and Doesn't Come Back?

When economists talk about our "jobless recovery," they grimly point out that many of the jobs that were lost in the past six years simply won't return. It's called the "New Normal." And the same logic holds true as schools, city governments, and arts organizations try to reinstate arts funding that was gutted during the Great Recession.

We're optimists at heart, so we'd like to think that schools will, for example, bring a middle school music class back to life thanks to rosier budgets or parental outcry. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. In fact, we're seeing that as our jobless recovery staggers along, philanthropic foundations remain the primary bulwark protecting communities from wide-scale and permanent arts funding cuts.

Flint, Michigan's Mott Foundation is a perfect example. It seems to be single-handedly keeping the city's art, economic, and civic institutions afloat. It recently gave $9 million grant to Michigan State University’s School of Public Health to attract quality jobs to the area. It awarded a $120,000 grant to the Greater Flint Arts Council to fund the city's five-month Parade of Festivals arts program this summer. And now comes word that the foundation has doled out over $5 million in grants to Flint cultural center institutions to "enhance arts and cultural services for local schools and communities."

Here's the funding breakdown: $2.2 million to the Flint Institute of Arts, $1.1 million to the Flint Institute of Music, and $1.7 million to the Flint Cultural Center Corporation. 

And make no mistake, the grants are a direct reaction to the fact that previously cut arts funding isn't coming back. The foundation notes that "the funding will allow the institutions to offer more free and low-cost activities, host community events and expand services to local schools in an effort to make up for arts, theater, and music programs that have been cut from district budgets."

We also can't overstate the psychological impact of giving these cultural institutions a much-needed shot in the arm. More than 600,000 people visit the Flint Cultural Center annually, and for good reason. It's home to a performing arts school, the state's largest domed planetarium, and one of Michigan's few remaining professional symphony orchestras.

At the expense of sounding dramatic, let's just ruminate on the aforementioned qualifier that is "few remaining." Six years after the Great Recession, Michigan — the ninth most populated state in the country — has lost several symphony orchestras. There aren't many left and cold logic suggests they too won't be coming back.

Mott wisely concluded that allowing these Flint cultural institutions to go under wasn't an option.