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Arts forum questions budget cuts

It’s hard to find a sector of the community that hasn’t felt the impacts of the economic downturn, but the case was made at an arts forum Wednesday that the cultural sector has taken a disproportionate hit from the city’s budget.

Morgan Smith, director of the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council (BIAHC) said cuts to the cultural sector – 63 percent from 2008 budgets – are not consistent with cuts in other areas. For example, the general fund expenses have been cut only 9 percent and community services, other than cultural funding actually saw an 11-percent increase.

“If all the people who are involved in the arts on this island were engaged in an airplane plant, you can bet the city would do whatever it took to keep the doors open.”

Despite it’s frou-frou image, the arts on Bainbridge has a substantial economic footprint.

“The cultural sector is the economic base of Bainbridge,” she said.

The forum was presented by Pomegranate Dialogues, a series of presentations organized by Zann Merriman to offer women a forum for discussion. The topic for the Wednesday meeting at Bainbridge Performing Arts was “Arts on the Island.”

Panelists included: Susan Jackson, Bainbridge Arts and Crafts; Morgan Smith, Bainbridge Arts and Humanities; Omie Kerr, Bainbridge Performing Arts; and City Council member Debbie Vancil.

Panel members, each who had about five minutes to speak, began by describing their organization’s adaptation to the current economy.

Jackson said that trying to run the organization that started 2009 with $92,000 less than the previous year has been like “walking in quicksand.”

Lifelong arts advocate Kerr, said art matters not only to the quality of life, but in giving our children the capacity to compete in the future marketplace that will require the skill sets of creative thinking, innovation and communication.

Vancil warned of a “philosophical shift” in the council that threatens the economic viability of the arts on Bainbridge.

“The arts are under attack. They are being singled out,” she said.

Following the four-person panel was a question-and-answer period.

Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Center Manager Mickey Molnaire said the arts and culture are a major draw for the community, estimating that tourism generates $20 million to the Bainbridge economy.

“People need a reason to come here and it’s important for them to have something to do,” she said. “If you diminish that appeal, you diminish the return.”

The City of Bainbridge paid for a 2006 Arts and Economic Prosperity III study which found that Bainbridge Island nonprofit arts and humanities organizations provided 195 full-time equivalent jobs and generated $734,000 in local and state tax revenue. A brochure, “The Arts Mean Business on Bainbridge,” which outlines the economic impact of the cultural sector is available from BIAHC. For more information, visit www.artshum.org.

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