The Nashville Arts Commission is facing a substantial budget cut, as Metro officials look to dig their way out of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. The commission is looking at a 37% decrease in funding — or $1,371,700.
The proposed cut would reduce Metro Arts’ grants budget by half, potentially leading to hundreds of job losses in the local nonprofit sector.
Arts Director Caroline Vincent says the department has spent years working to eliminate inequities in the arts, and that the million-dollar reduction could have a devastating ripple effect on cultural organizations across the region. Those include agencies providing enrichment experiences through dance and nonprofits elevating underrepresented voices through poetry.
“We know that smaller organizations are often the ones who are closest to communities that may be our most vulnerable populations: people experiencing homelessness, youth, seniors and low-income individuals,” says Vincent.
About 40% of the department’s grants go to small organizations — groups with budgets under $1 million — that are more likely to work with underserved communities. Many lack access to cash reserves and other emergency resources.
Tennessee’s cultural and performance arts organizations have been faced with severe budget woes since the start of the pandemic. At the beginning of April, the Nashville Symphony cut staff and musician pay by 25% before receiving a forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loan, from the Small Business Administration under the federal CARES Act.
Like the Symphony, Vincent says most of the large organizations she works with were able to receive a PPP loan, but that some of her smaller grantees were left without a safety net.
“Even though they applied on the day that it opened, they were in situations where they were told the money had been depleted,” says Vincent.
Nashville’s arts budget will be finalized in June. Several competing proposals are on the table, including some that would soften the blow to the arts — or eliminate potential cuts in exchange for a larger tax increase.
If the initial proposal is approved, the commission says 95% of Nashville arts organizations will be impacted by the cuts. They say this could lead to a reduction in youth mentoring support, and even a decrease in tourism revenues, as arts and cultural events tend to attract visitors.