Arts’ Watch: Treats the arts like horses

Published 4:30 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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By Bill McCann


The arts deserve more support from our local legislature members; after all, this is a town devoted to the arts. Walk around downtown Winchester, and this city’s enchantment with the arts is evident.

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Near one end of Main Street, Mason’s sells hand-crafted bow ties; nearing the other end are Arts on Main, the Leeds Center for the Arts, and Dirty South Pottery. You can take voice lessons at Erika’s Vocal Studio, buy locally crafted moonshine and beer cheese at the Mercantile on Main and buy framed art at several antique stores. And that’s just some of what’s available on Main Street; more is available throughout the community. The arts thrive in Winchester.

But for how long? Arts and artists can survive only as long as a new generation of artists is trained and encouraged, as long as the current practitioners can practice their arts, as long as some can make a living doing what they love, which brings us to that old bug-a-boo—money.

Specifically, in Kentucky during the 2022-2023 fiscal year federal and state funding of the arts amounted to, according to Tom Musgrave of the Kentucky Arts Council (KAC), a per capita expenditure of 40 cents per Kentuckian!

In terms of total dollars spent by KAC, including money from the National Endowment for the Arts administered by the state agency, the budget was $1,797,100 from the General Assembly and $851,470 from the NEA.

Our state per capita spending level is estimated to rank 46th among the states for the coming 2024 fiscal year. Is this enough? If not, let your legislators know.

No doubt our legislators—city. county, state, and national will claim that everything possible is being done to improve and support the arts within reason: agencies that best support Kentucky families are, no doubt, their main focus. But is that true?

According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in fiscal year 2018 the Kentucky General Assembly appropriated $2,628,100, the following fiscal year appropriations to KAC dropped 35% to $1,708,700. As of FY 2023 arts spending was 5% above that of FY 2019 and nearly $1,000,000 below expenditures on arts programming by KAC in 2018.

Yes, roads, public protection, business recruitment, public education, higher education and other aspects of community living require appropriate levels of funding. According to the publication “The Horse Capital of the World” the equine industry has a total economic impact of $6.5 billion and provides nearly 80,000 jobs. By comparison, according to information provided by KAC in Kentucky “the arts and culture sector is a $6.1 billion industry in 2021 and represents $47,171 jobs.”

Without throwing any mud at the horse industry, would it not be a wise expenditure of funds to support the arts to the same degree that it supports the equine industry since they have very nearly an equal economic impact and the arts industry apparently pays better?

If, indeed, our legislature financially supports those industries that best provide for the families of our state, shouldn’t the KAC get more financial support?

According to the Urban Institute, the Kentucky FY 2023-2024 biennial budget, as passed in April 2022, included S14.1 BILLION in general fund spending. The proposed spending for KAC in the coming year is less than $2 million. 

If you run into Sen. Greg Elkins or Rep. Ryan Dotson locally at the Leeds or attending an arts event, you might ask them to budget more money for the arts. Or perhaps they would support the idea that Kentucky art and crafts product purchases could be made exempt from sales tax? Just an idea. After all, I’m sure they want to support economic winners, which clearly means supporting agencies such as the Kentucky Arts Council and the artists it supports. 

Bill McCann is the 2025 Grawemeyer Award in Religion nominated author of “God Hires Gardeners.” He can be reached at