State Cuts Close UICA For August

July 11, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s state budget cuts have claimed a casualty on the local arts scene as the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts is closing its doors for the month of August.

In announcing the cuts earlier this year, Granholm referred to the arts as not “vital” in the same way that a heart patient’s medication or food for a child is vital.

The state budget cuts are part of the reason UICA will be shuttered next month.

Executive Director Jeff Meeuwsen said the closing will affect more than just the arts community, and a recent national report released by Americans for the Arts seems to support that claim.

The Arts and Economic Prosperity study reported that the nonprofit arts industry generates $134 billion in total economic activity by arts organizations and their audiences. The industry also generates $24.4 billion in federal, state and local government revenues annually. And by comparison, federal, state and local governments collectively spend less than $3 billion on support of the arts each year — a financial return of 8 to 1.

In an indirect response to Granholm’s “vital reasoning,” the study states: “When governments reduce their support for the arts they need to understand that they are not cutting frills. They are undercutting a nonprofit industry that is a cornerstone of tourism and downtown revitalization.”

Meeuwsen said he is worried about the long-term effect on the arts community, as well as the community as a whole.

“The most recent round of state budget cuts pulled another leg out from under us — and this undervaluing of the arts has been a snowballing trend for quite some time. I find it ironic that so many government and business leaders talk about the importance of nurturing the ‘creative class’ and building ‘cool cities,’ yet arts funding is severely restricted from almost every source,” he said. “UICA has always been and remains a rare model for what these leaders wish to establish, if only they would wake up and realize it.”

For now Meeuwsen will close his facility for the last month of the summer in order to preserve funds for the upcoming fall season and try and make do with the reduced state funding UICA receives.

He noted that there are three reasons for the closing: to further reduce expenses; to focus energy on preparing for the new season of programming; and to reward the staff for their efforts in the past year.

“The month of August is traditionally one of our slowest in terms of revenue from programming,” said Meeuwsen. “September and October are two of our largest months. Reducing some of our overhead in August makes good fiscal sense.”

During the month off, the management staff will work a reduced workweek but will be paid their regular salaries. Meeuwsen said the time will be used to focus on strategic planning and development for the next season, and to give some time off to employees who are stretched very thin.

“UICA is like a dynamic research and development center for visual, performing and literary expression. We find value in challenging artists and audiences, promoting dialogue, and inspiring our community to new levels of insight and connectedness,” said Meeuwsen.

“By eliminating support for creative research and development, our entire community loses — mentally, spiritually and economically. Even if we ignore the importance of mental and spiritual well being, there is little logic in cutting economic support for the arts. In good times and in bad, UICA attracts people to live and work in our community, to excel and to invest in our urban center.”

The Americans for the Arts study supports Meeuwsen by reporting that event-related spending, including parking, hotels, restaurants and retail stores, generates an estimated $80.8 billion in revenue for local merchants in their communities. That boils down to an average amount spent of  $21.75 per local person.

And the total is even higher for out-of-town guests, who spend an average of $38.05 per event.

In comparison, the UICA requires $60,000 per month to provide a center for contemporary expression, a number Meeuwsen said would be 25 percent higher if it weren’t for the volunteers UICA is fortunate to have.

It is because the art center is able to secure so many volunteers that 90 percent of its income goes directly into programs for the community.

During the month of August, the savings will come from a reduction in the costs of utilities, programming and hourly staff. During the hours of noon to 10 p.m., which is normally when UICA is open to the public, the four galleries need to be lighted and maintained, as do the theater and community studios. Areas such as the reception desk and film projection booth also need to be staffed. Beginning in the fall, the reception desk will be staffed with volunteers.

“Being temporarily closed also means we will reduce our program costs — both direct expenses like film rental and distribution fees as well as more indirect costs that come from a very small staff being pulled in too many directions prior to a new season,” said Meeuwsen.

In September UICA will reopen to offer patrons its award-winning foreign and alternative film program, studio-based group therapy and educational art classes, as well as programs, events, workshops and community studios. More information is available on the Web site at www.uica.org. For more information on the economic impact study, visit the Web site at www.americansforthearts.org/economicimpact.

“The struggle to carry on is very real and quite literally day by day,” said Meeuwsen. “For our community to thrive, we must learn to value the arts for all they provide. I promise you, even those people who have never visited UICA are currently benefiting from having UICA in our community.”           

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