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Arts Commission Survives Budget Cuts 

Agency's budget to be reduced by $1.34M over two years.

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The budget that the Virginia General Assembly passed Sunday cuts $1.34 million from the Virginia Commission for the Arts during the next two fiscal years. But Peggy J. Baggett is breathing a little easier.

That's because the House of Delegates had proposed slicing the agency's budget by half in fiscal year 2011 before eliminating it altogether in 2012.

Now the commission will receive $4.1 million in state money beginning July 1 and $4.1 million in the following year.

“I think they came to realize that the economic impact of the arts was an incredibly powerful part of the state's economic development,” says Baggett, executive director of the state agency.

Arts organizations serve as catalysts for downtown revitalization and anchors for tourism throughout the state, Baggett says.

The commission already has suffered budget reductions of around 30 percent since 2008, Baggett says. The current 15-percent cut amounts to about $670,000 more, scheduled to go into effect this year. At best, it's a bittersweet victory.

“We feel that the legislature has tried its hardest to treat the arts fairly,” says Trish Poupore, executive director of Virginians for the Arts, a state arts advocacy group based in Richmond.

“We're kind of relieved, to be honest,” says David Fisk, executive director of the Richmond Symphony, which employs 88 full-time and part-time people and has been particularly hard-hit in the past year, suffering layoffs, a weeklong furlough and unpaid performances by musicians. Fisk says he's bracing for possible cuts to the educational programs the symphony operates with schools in Richmond and Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover counties.

The list of Richmond arts organizations that will face reductions in grants includes the symphony, CultureWorks, 1708 Gallery, Art 180, Artspace Gallery, the Barksdale Theatre, the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, Elegba Folklore Society, Firehouse Theatre Project, Henley Street Theatre Company, the Harps Foundation, James River Writers, Latin Ballet of Virginia, Richmond Ballet, Richmond Boys Choir, Richmond Jazz Society, Richmond Shakespeare, the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community, Theatre IV and the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.

“With an organization our size, it's always been a challenge,” says Janine Bell, founder and artistic director of Elegba Folklore Society. But dollars from the commission offer “a bit of security,” she says.

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