David Lauderdale

Governor's plan to cut arts funding would be a very costly mistake

The arts are big business.

For South Carolina to kill its state arts commission, as suggested by the governor, would make us a paint-by-number player in a Mona Lisa world.

What a shallow, thoughtless response this would be to a budget squeeze, when the main thing the state needs is an economic boost. That's precisely what the arts do. Forget about culture, this is about the economy.

Creative industries (for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations and self-employed individuals) contribute $9.2 billion to the state's economy and support more than 78,000 jobs, according to University of South Carolina researchers.

In Beaufort County, 253 arts-related businesses employ 864 people, according to an analysis of Dun & Bradstreet data by the Americans for the Arts organization.

Nationally, creative industries account for $30 billion in annual exports and almost 3 million stateside jobs.

The S.C. Arts Commission, established by the legislature in 1967, collaborates with many others in seeing that the arts are present in all communities and schools. That includes the poor and rural communities that might not otherwise have it, but have given the world the likes of Dizzy Gillespie.

The commission is an important link to a worldwide economy driven by ideas.

Can anyone today calculate what Spoleto Festival USA has meant economically since its inception in 1977? Can anyone place a figure on the spin-off value when the host city of Charleston is seen as a place of culture?

When the late Harriet Keyserling of Beaufort argued for state support for Spoleto, and the arts in general, she turned to something all her fellow legislators could appreciate, whether they thought art was "Hee Haw" or The Metropolitan Opera. She turned to money.

Legislators could grasp that the job-producing companies the state was trying to lure did not want to move to a cultural wasteland. They could understand that the arts can spur education, and education can spur the arts, and all of that stirs the economy.

Now today, after we've struggled step by step to come this far, and as the world economy spins on intellectual capital, why would we dismantle state support for the arts? Every other state has an arts commission. Why would we even think of standing alone as the Stone Age state?

The state allocation proposed this year for the arts commission is $2 million. That is four one hundredths of 1 percent of the total state appropriation. Do the math. Killing the arts commission would be financially irresponsible when art is big business.