Arts and culture will have to compete for state financial support

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed 2012-13 state budget eliminates direct support to local arts and cultural organizations such as the Garde Arts Center and the Mystic Aquarium while setting up a competitive process intended to produce a more efficient use of funding.

The governor's budget also takes a more than 10 percent slice out of local tourism funding but retains the Eastern Regional Tourism District, which promotes travel to the area. The agency had been removed from Malloy's budget last year before the legislature intervened and decided to fund the local tourism districts.

Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary at the state Office of Policy and Management, said in a phone interview Wednesday that arts and cultural organizations - as well as sporting-related programs - will have an opportunity to compete for $14 million in the Department of Economic and Community Development's budget.

The process won't be fully developed until the governor's budget receives final approval, but Casa said the idea was to encourage people who deliver the same types of services to work together. Some organizations might get less than they received in this year's budget, he said, but others might win more funding, depending on how they present their requests.

"We really have tried to centralize marketing functions to market the state as a whole, and this fits in with that plan," Casa said.

But the move led to confusion for local organizations that appeared to have their state funding zeroed-out in the governor's budget for the next fiscal year. The Mystic Aquarium, which had $620,000 allocated in this year's budget, as well as the Garde, at $300,000, and the Ivoryton Playhouse, at $150,000, all found themselves in funding limbo Wednesday.

Peter Glankoff, senior vice president of marketing and public affairs for the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, said state funding had once been in the $1 million range but has dwindled in recent years. Malloy cut $31,000 in aquarium funding from this fiscal year's budget after projections showed a state revenue shortfall last month.

"We've heard about the idea for a competitive grant process, but it has not been fully articulated," Glankoff said.

Similarly, Steve Sigel, executive director of the Garde in New London, said all arts organizations in the state have been notified about a change involving collaborative grants but added that he doesn't have any specifics about how the new system will work. He said state officials holding a regional forum Tuesday in Danielson are expected to lay out some of the plans.

"If all the money were to disappear, it would be - let's put it this way, that cannot happen," Sigel said. "We're the artery that connects the heart of the city to the rest of the region."

He said the Garde, which had a $15,000 cut after the Malloy administration discovered a budget shortfall last month, was in the middle of a two-year state funding commitment that has allowed the theater to maintain its busy schedule even in the midst of an economic downturn.

He said funding delays make it difficult to plan next year's programming.

"We're sensitive to that, and we're going to take that into account," said Casa, the OPM undersecretary.

Casa expects that in this year's short legislative session, approval of the budget will occur by the beginning of May, which will allow officials to announce soon afterward how the competitive process will work.

Malloy's budget proposal includes $25 million for statewide marketing, which Casa said includes $11 million for tourism promotion.

In the proposed budget, the Eastern Regional Tourism District had $4,700 shaved off this year's $41,100 allocation, while tourism districts as a whole could face a percentage reduction of a similar size. Ed Dombroskas, executive director of the district, said the cuts will lead to a re-evaluation of how local tourism officials spend their money and he expected further reductions in overhead costs.

Dombroskas said the state is looking to centralize more tourism functions, so the local cuts don't necessarily mean less emphasis on promoting attractions in eastern Connecticut.

"Eastern Connecticut is the breadbasket for tourism in Connecticut," said Glankoff. "If you add in the casinos, about 60 percent of all tourism in Connecticut is generated right here."

l.howard@theday.com

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