We at Louisiana Citizens for the Arts have been following state bill HB216, which caps the amount spent on the State’s Percent for Art Program. While this issue, raised by Treasurer Kennedy, may have been motivated by political interest and upcoming Senate campaigns rather than fiscal responsibility, it is worth illustrating a few details.
The cultural industries in Louisiana are the state’s second largest employment sector and produce diversified revenue during a time when other economic areas such as oil & gas are struggling. Culture in Louisiana is the engine that drives tourism, which in turn produces extraordinary revenue to the state without tax hikes or burdening our citizens and communities.
It should be also noted that Louisiana ranks 40th in per capita arts funding, and is 11th out of 15 of the traditional Southern states. Louisiana currently funds culture at .48 per capita, where the Southern average is .72. This is a regrettable and unnecessary decline, as Louisiana ranked in the teens as late as 2002. While we believe Louisiana’s culture is its greatest asset, and that our artists can compete with anyone, the lack of even average government support does put our artists at a competitive disadvantage.
We would like to strongly affirm our belief in the value of public art for Louisiana. At its heart, public art engages people, tells the story of our culture, and assures that access to great works of art is not purely the provenance of the more affluent.
We are proud that since its inception in 1999, the state’s Percent For Art Program has created new commissioned works in Hammond, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge, Farmerville, and New Orleans. All that said, we are open to a change in the program that caps expenditures on a certain project, and we do hope that Treasurer Kennedy’s new interest in arts funding ultimately results in his supporting raising Louisiana’s culture funding to the Southern average.