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Arts Organizations Hang Tight As Illinois Arts Council Finalizes Budget

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Nearly half way through the state’s fiscal year, the Illinois Arts Council’s budget announced it has finalized its budget – months after it usually does, leaving Illinois arts organizations dependent on its funding hanging tight.

The council, which usually meets in August of the previous fiscal year to award grants, will meet on Feb. 23 to review grant recommendations and amounts.

Because of the state’s $15 billion deficit, the Illinois Arts Council was unable to review grants until now. Furthermore, the arts council has suffered horrendous drops in their budget, having their operating funds reduced by more 50 percent in two years.

According to an email sent out by Illinois Arts Council chair Shirley Madigan, the Illinois Arts Council is scheduled to meet Feb. 23 to review grant recommendations and amounts.

In the email, which was sent to past Chicago recipients of grant funding, Madigan thanked members for the work they do for arts in the state and apologized for the delay.

“We realize that the delay in notification has been a hardship for many organizations. However, due to the state’s ongoing financial crisis this was unavoidable,” Madigan said in the email dated Feb. 9.

Grant recipients will be notified if and how much they’ll receive after Wednesday’s meeting.

Madigan said in the email the three areas being reviewed are the Program Grant, Partners in Excellence grant and the Arts in Education Residency Program.

All three grants provide varying degrees of financial support to not-for-profit Illinois-based organizations, agencies and individuals conducting programming of high artistic merit.

Alex Shapiro, director of research, planning and marketing for the Illinois Arts Council, confirmed the information in Madigan’s email.

Shapiro also said in a separate voicemail the meeting agenda was posted on the council’s website Tuesday.

Even with the delay in grant approvals, Chicago arts organizations are still keeping themselves afloat.

Carolina Jayaram, executive director of the Chicago Artists Coalition, said while her organizations receives some funding from the Illinois Arts Council, the coalition has resorted to relying more on individual donors.

As a result, Jayarum says Chicago Artists Coalition has grown by about 15 percent—a rare success story in the economy.

“We’re an old organization with deep roots in the community,” Jayaram said. “We’ve actually grown because we’ve gotten creative and depended more on earned income revenue. Newer organizations have a more difficult time in this economy.”

The coalition was founded in 1974.

Penny Wollan-Kriel, acting director of the Springfield Area Arts Council, said because of the cuts made to the Illinois Arts Council’s budget, arts organizations have to make cuts as well.

“It’s a trickle-down effect,” Wollan-Kriel said. “Whether they’re a museum group or a visual arts group, we’re all in the same boat.”

Scarlett Swerdlow, advocacy and communications director for Arts Alliance Illinois, says it was encouraging arts groups to file for grants immediately because of delays in rewarding grants of fiscal year 2010 of up to six months.

Because of the delay, money that would have gone to local economies was not invested.

“[Local arts organizations] were hit particularly hard because they assumed they had the grant, but then they couldn’t get the money,” Swerdlow said.

In a press release posted on the Illinois Arts Council’s web site back in October, Madigan said the council wouldn’t review and award grants until January 2011.

“[W]e will work with you to make this unusual circumstance as manageable as possible,” Madigan said in the release.

Shapiro says while the grant awarding process for fiscal year 2011 has been “unusual,” the council aims to meet this coming August to discuss fiscal year 2012. Shapiro did not offer any confirmed dates for the meeting.

Funding to the Illinois Arts Council had been cut drastically by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

In fiscal year 2007, state funding for the Illinois Arts Council was $19.4 million. The following fiscal year, funding was cut by 22 percent to $14.2 million.

After flat funding in 2009, Gov. Pat Quinn made additional cuts so the operating budget was $7.5 million for fiscal year 2010.

The Illinois Arts Council’s budget was increased to $8.5 million for fiscal year 2011.

“It’s an improvement, but we’re still a long way from what the full state investments were for the arts,” Swerdlow said.

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