The "So-So" News Behind the Hearst Foundation's Recent Arts Education Grant

Today we greet you bearing bad news, followed by good news, and then some so-so news regarding the perilous state of arts education funding.

First, the bad news: We're optimists. We'd even venture to say our optimism is contagious. For example, given the recent uptick in the U.S. economy, we theorized that a rising economic tide could at least, in theory, enable communities and states to reinvest in arts education.

Sometimes our optimism could best be described as naiveté. 

California Governor Jerry Brown recently announced his budget priorities for 2015 and they're not all good. After a landmark year in 2014 in which the California Arts Council (CAC) saw its budget jump by $5 million, Governor Moonbeam's proposed budget for 2015-16 allocated just $1.1 million to the organization. As a result, the CAC's total budget for 2015 will be $4.9 million, just under half of its $10 million budget for 2014. 

To summarize: Jerry Brown is cutting California's arts education budget in halfin a state which we should note has regained its financial footing — during a time of national economic recovery. The takeaway? We're doomed.

Well, not entirely. 

Take the news from Connecticut, where the William Randolph Hearst Foundation recently awarded the Aldrich Contemporary Arts Museum a $60,000 grant for continued support of its arts education programs for children and youth. The museum offers preschool programs, school visits, and after-school teen programs, as well as school break workshops and a summer day camp.

This gift falls in line with the foundation's priority of funding youth arts education. For example, it recently awarded a $50,000 grant to the Oregon's Children's Theatre to support theater education services and community outreach programs to engage disadvantaged youth.

The Hearst Foundation's grant is the good news we alluded to earlier in the post.

Now for the so-so news.

Don't get us wrong, we're thrilled that private foundations continue to pick up the slack for arts education. But it also absolves state governments from one of their core responsibilities. Well-intentioned politicians like Governor Brown say, "Schools don't need taxpayer help — foundations are taking care of it." And they move on to the next thing. 

This sets a bad precedent, particularly as the economy rebounds. Public entities should be in the business of funding arts education, just like they fund road construction and state parks. Furthermore, assuming foundations will indefinitely pick up the arts education funding slack is myopic. As nonprofit arts organizations know all too well, nothing is forever, even (especially!) private arts funding.