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Island arts groups brace for the worst

Some fear cuts on table will cripple cultural institutions.

Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council, the entity responsible for allocating city funds to cultural organizations around the island, is facing a massive budget reduction.

Proposed cuts of $40,000 in 2009 and $94,000 in 2010 to BIAHC have remained in the city’s proposed biennial budget and have sparked some backlash from the cultural community.

The move is meant to help the city and council balance the proposed 2009-2010 budget.

However, island arts organizations are bracing for the worst; many fear the cuts will mean layoffs, service reductions and even closures for island cultural institutions.

“I don’t think that everyone is aware of what this means,” said Bainbridge Historical Museum Executive Director Hank Helm. “So far it sounds like a typical council meeting, but the cuts they are talking about are significant.”

The reductions are not new to Zon Eastes, who, as executive director of BIAHC, has dealt with city cuts in the past.

“We’ve had to do this before,” Eastes said. “We’ve already sustained cuts from the city of over 20 percent since 2007.”

But Eastes believes the cuts are going too far – they amount to roughly 37 percent of city arts funding over the next two years.

“The real danger here is that we’re into a systematic cutting funding for the arts,” Eastes said. “I understand the monumental burdens, but at some point one more cut becomes too deep.”

“This would probably reframe how this organization functions.”

BIAHC will be looking at its funding options this Thursday to see how it could absorb or divvy out the cuts to organizations around the island while retaining hope that funding will be reinstated. With the year’s end looming, however, it is not certain if those funds will be reallocated since the council needs to approve a balanced 2009 budget before the end of December.

“There is a desire to control our expenses while not putting our main cultural organizations in jeopardy of failing,” said council member Barry Peters. “On the other hand we still have to find the budget expense reductions. I think we’re still going to need to reduce the amount to something close to where it is now or to redistribute the line-item reductions.”

Many argue that the cuts, targeted at cultural funding ($94,000) and the implementation of comprehensive plan cultural elements ($40,000), limits the ability for BIAHC to adjust and spread the burden. Others, such as Cheryl Dale, the executive director of the Kids Discovery Museum, believe that the cuts, no matter where they come from, will drive up competition for funds and leave some organizations by the wayside.

“Obviously I am extremely upset about additional cuts in the cultural funding,” Dale said. “I don’t even know where to begin to make those reductions.”

KiDiMu has already taken a $10,000 loss of funding for 2009. The museum relied on funds channeled through BIAHC for roughly $28,000 in 2008. Dale believes the museum may see all of its funding dry-up if the cuts are passed.

“We use that money to cover our operating expenses. You can’t get those dollars from someplace else,” Dale said. “No one wants to fund operating costs; you can’t write a grant to pay for rent and utilities.”

Helm spoke of the ongoing difficulties cultural organizations were already having with traditional fund-raising efforts.

“We do have a significant problem raising money,” he said. “Our membership is tougher to maintain and donors aren’t as free with their money in this current economy.”

The museum relies on city funds for roughly 16 to 20 percent of its budget, according to Helm. With that chunk of change on the chopping block, Helm said, organizations will have to make broad cuts to stay afloat.

“There is only one thing to do and that’s to reduce services, people and hours,” he said. “We will have no choice, there’s just no other way to get that money.”

Arts supporters said they would continue to petition the city and the council to reallocate funding to BIAHC.

A vote on the final budget is expected on Dec. 17.

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