Cuts threaten arts events

No more First Friday.

A scaled back Arts in the Heart of Augusta.

Less advertising dollars to attract tourists to Augusta events.

All were funding-cut possibilities posed today by Greater Augusta Arts Council executive director Brenda Durant after an Augusta Commission budget workshop.

“Everything’s on the table,” Ms. Durant said after the meeting, in which several community groups made their case to commissioners amid a proposed 15 percent cut to their requested budgets for next year.

The cut to 25 outside agencies – about $1 million less than was requested – is just one facet of the commission’s efforts to address a current $8.6 million shortfall in next year’s budget.

Ms. Durant told commissioners her group’s budget was cut last year to $175,000 and is facing another $25,000 cut next year. That would put her more than $50,000 below what she had requested for next year. The council has a budget of $589,000 this year and it splits the funding it gets from the city between its operations and other arts organizations by way of grants.

Ms. Durant said it costs her group about $500 a month plus the cost of a staff member to put on downtown’s First Friday events, and it costs them about $140,000 to oversee downtown’s annual Arts in the Heart festival.

She said the council might consider reductions with both events or have to cut a position. No decisions will be made soon as the group runs on a fiscal year budget that starts in July as opposed to the city’s calendar year budget.

Also at the meeting was Sue Ash, a representative with the Richmond County Health Department, which has the largest recommended funding reduction ($183,490) compared to what it had requested.

“The implication of the proposed cuts is I will have to reduce five more positions and furlough Richmond County health employees one day a month,” she said, telling commissioners “… I plead to you to consider those facts.”

Local banker Pat Blanchard, who represented the Augusta Museum of History’s board of trustees on Monday, didn’t specifically say how the cuts would affect the museum. However, he told commissioners a main concern is being able to maintain proper temperature and humidity levels for the more than 100,000 items housed at the museum that are worth several million dollars.

“Documents would be destroyed over time if we did not do this,” he said. “...Our appeal to you today is to be aware of our needs.”

The history museum’s 2010 request would be cut by $151,250.

Christine Miller-Betts, of the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, said she hopes to keep current staffing levels unchanged despite a $51,250 cut to her group’s funding request. However, she said that if the museum had received all it asked for she could have hired a curator and educator.

“I come to you today to ask you to support our budget for 2010,” she told commissioners.

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