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Wyoming Arts Organizations Remain Concerned About Federal Funding

Bob Beck

Earlier this month, those involved with arts organizations in the state were able to exhale after a proposal to zero out funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, Humanities, and similar organizations this year was averted. The proposal was part of President Trump’s budget.

At the University of Wyoming Art Museum, Susan Moldenhauer sits at a desk of neatly stacked brochures and contracts as she prepares for another year of exhibits. She is the Director and Chief Curator at the facility. 

The UW Art Museum is one of the big dogs in the state when it comes to receiving federal funding. The Museum gets federal arts, humanities, and library money for exhibits, programs, and special projects. It also gets state money and uses that public money to encourage donors to give. If the public money gets cut or goes away it would have an impact.

“One of the fears is that it will happen overnight, if we see that happen overnight we come to a standstill for a while in terms of our programming,” said Moldenhauer.

As a university museum, it stands to reason that some might come to the museum’s rescue, but Moldenhauer frets about what would happen to arts and cultural programming across the state. The state is experiencing its own financial challenge and if both federal and state money gets cut, that would leave a mark.

“You know Wyoming ranks right up there in terms of how many people are not just directly impacted, but directly involved in the arts of all kinds across Wyoming. So, you know to see funding at the state and national level disappear would be, I don’t even know what to call it…disaster. It would be dire for the culture.”

The main statewide distributor of funding for arts in the state is the Wyoming Arts Council. The Arts Council gets $850,000 in federal money and the legislature matches that to the tune of $1 million. Wyoming Arts Council Director Mike Lange says that money gets distributed to non-profit organizations statewide, who use it as seed money to get additional dollars.

“We know that for every dollar of public funding we put in, the local communities raise an extra $35 to put on those grant activities around the state.”

But without that public funding, it’s hard to raise additional money, especially in more isolated areas.

“Between that and the small population the amount of access for large giving is smaller than in other areas of the country,” said Lange.

Music and the arts is so important to have a great quality of life. And I don't think it matters if you live in Salt Lake or if you live in a place like Diamondville that's next door to us that has 792 people. It makes a difference in their quality life and not only that, it makes a difference in their children's lives and how they learn.

That would certainly have an impact in Kemmerer where Ellen Potter runs the Frontier Arts Council.  She said the state and federal money they receive makes a huge difference.

“Music and the arts is so important to have a great quality of life. And I don’t think it matters if you live in Salt Lake or if you live in a place like Diamondville that’s next door to us that has 792 people. It makes a difference in their quality life and not only that, it makes a difference in their children’s lives and how they learn.”

Potter points out that her area also gets funding for the Oyster Ridge Music Festival and three other festivals.  Without that money, she said the local economy would suffer.

“You know we have a small downtown and a lot of them make a lot of money during those festivals and it holds them over until next year for festivals. And that might not be happening.”

Steve Schrepferman of Cody serves on the Wyoming Arts Council and is the Co-President of the Wyoming Arts Alliance. He worries that the loss of National Endowment for the Arts money could have a ripple effect.

“NEA funding is given to all of the states but each state legislature must match those funds dollar for dollar. If the NEA is eliminated and that funding’s not there, there’s no incentive for state legislature’s to support the arts.”

He noted that state and federal money both fund children’s education programs across the state. Since those programs don’t raise money, he fears that they could be the first to go if there were funding reductions. Some say that arts funding should come from communities, but with funding cuts throughout the arts and non-profit world, Schrepferman said private money will be hard to come by.

“The hands that are extended for donations are large (laughs), or many I guess I probably should say. And with I think the concerns about the economy people are kind of conservative about what they give. So, I don’t think we’re going to see that replaced.”

The Wyoming Arts Council’s Mike Lange said that will lead to a disparity across the state, where larger programs and communities will be able to get funding, and smaller programs in rural areas will likely disappear. 

He said saying goodbye to something that helps the economy at little cost doesn’t make a lot of sense. The next vote on the issue is scheduled for this fall. 

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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