Published on January 30th, 2017 | by TLV News0
Locals Rally to Save Mississippi Arts Commission
article by Luke Fisher
photograph by Scott Barretta
The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council sponsored a public meeting Sunday, January 29, to rally local opposition to legislative bills designed to do away with the independent Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) and bring its functions under the Mississippi Development Authority, a move that YAC Director Wayne Andrews says will negatively impact support for the arts in Mississippi.
Andrews, State Representative Jay Hughes and State Senator Gray Tollison all spoke to the approximately 120 people who attended the meeting at The Powerhouse in Oxford. Attendees were urged to immediately contact legislators to oppose the bill.
Companion bills in committees in both the Mississippi house and senate, House Bill 1325 and Senate Bill 2611, will be voted on this Tuesday, January 31. If neither bill is passed out of committee by midnight Tuesday, the issue will be dead for this session.
Both Hughes and Tollison oppose the measure and believe that the Mississippi Arts Commission should remain a separate, independent agency. Attendees were urged to take action before the committee votes on Tuesday, and to contact friends in other legislative districts to do the same.
Under questioning during the house committee meeting, witnesses who appeared in support of the bill testified that they had no evidence that doing away with the Arts Commission would either save money or increase efficiency, both of which were originally given as justifications for the bill according to Hughes. Nor could they provide any evidence on how the measure would affect the arts in Mississippi. Wayne Andrews stated that eight states have already taken similar actions, and that in each instance funding for the arts has decreased.
Proponents of the measure say that the change is administrative and would have little effect on operations of the current commission. Andrews said, however, that the move would put the Commission’s functions, including the making of grants, under the control of the Governor rather than an independent agency.
Hughes said, “What makes Mississippi amazing are the arts . . . The last thing we need to do is put politicians in charge of that as well.”
Tollison stated that the Mississippi Development Authority relates to tourism, and “tourism is different than the arts.”
According to Andrews, the MAC is the only Mississippi agency that is an official partner with the National Endowment of the Arts, allowing it to receive approximately $800,000 from the NEA each year to support the arts. Andrews said that dissolving the state commission would put that money at risk. Andrews said that the YAC received about $30,000 in grants from the Commission last year, of which close to 97 percent goes directly to supporting art activities and events, as well as cash and in-kind grants.
Both Hughes and Tollison said that social media, online petitions, and even emails are no longer effective, and that legislators are swayed by phone calls and personal contact. Hughes also said that text messages can be useful, but not if they are anonymous.
Tollison spoke in general about the need to “cultivate connections” with legislators and to use “constructive engagement” to affect legislation, and that this is an ongoing process in dealing with this issue and others in the future. Hughes said that if efforts to kill the bills were successful, people should contact their supporters in the legislature to thank them for their efforts in support of the arts.
According to Hughes, the arts aren’t political. “The arts don’t know a party. They aren’t red or blue.”
Andrews emphasized the important economic role of the arts. Art activities in Lafayette County alone had an attendance of approximately 200,000 people last year, many from other places and other states, all of whom spent money while they were here.
“Every business owner ought to be involved in this issue,” said Andrews. He said to email firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of contact information for representatives and senators on the relevant committees. The list includes the identity of legislators that Hughes believed may be convinced to help kill the bill.
The MAC has awarded numerous grants in Lafayette County, including to the local public library, Oxford city schools, individual musicians and artists, Theatre Oxford, the University of Mississippi Theatre Department, the Oxford Film Festival, Friends of Thacker Mountain Radio, the Oxford Ballet Association, and numerous others. The YAC, using MAC grant money, has supported various music and other art events, such as More than a Meal, the Yocona International Folk Festival, the LQC Lamar House, the Oxford High School Theatre Department, and many other organizations.
Posted by Wayne Andrews on Sunday, January 29, 2017