Monday, March 12, 2007

Thief, Lies and Deception - Power Grabbers Target Children and the Arts

Sunset Review Committee Hearing on the Texas Commmission of the Arts

Commissioner Ricardo Hernandez:

I recommend that you listen to the Sunset Staff Hearing. There is a link to the Real Player video. Move the bar to

Response to TCA Sunset Hearing 3/28/2006
By Ricardo Hernandez

On March 28th, the Sunset Advisory Commission held a hearing to discuss the future of the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA), a process all state agencies undergo every 12 years. The hearing marked the next step in the ongoing Sunset process and focused on the recommendations contained in the Sunset Commission Staff Report issued in February. Several important issues came up during the hearing, and I want to take a moment to address and clarify those issues. They include:

1. Recommendation to continue the TCA for another 12 years, opposed by Sunset Advisory Commission member Howard Wolf
2. Recommendation to dissolve the Texas Cultural Endowment Fund
3. Recommendation to limit the focus of the agency, especially with regard to arts education activities

Recommendation to continue the TCA for another 12 years, opposed by Sunset Advisory Commission member Howard Wolf

The Sunset Staff Report recommended the arts commission should be continued for another 12 years and not consolidated with any other agency. However, Howard Wolf, a citizen member of the Sunset Advisory Commission, said he was in favor of abolishing the TCA entirely and would lobby fellow commissioners to adopt his position. He argued TCA would do better in the private sector. "You're a distraction and a diversion to your mission by staying under the state umbrella," he said.

The privatization conversation has been ongoing for many years and was the driving idea behind the creation of the Texas Cultural Endowment Fund. While arguing privatization may be appealing, the loss of TCA's public mission would be at risk. It is the reason that TCA asked the Legislature to retain legislative oversight of the Commission after the Endowment Fund reached its goal.

Loss of the public mission can be summed up in three primary areas. The first is equity. TCA provides funding in communities large and small across the state. We have funded programming in all but 14 of the state's 254 counties, and we take our Equity Mandate very seriously. TCA funds an average of 96 percent of all grant applications received. It would be impossible for a private entity to achieve this level of equity because of the need to "follow the money." Most arts programming would only happen in metropolitan areas with large donors and large audiences. Rural Texas, where some of our most important cultural institutions and traditions reside, would lose out to the big cities.

The second is access. TCA stands by its motto "Art is for Everyone!" no matter where your location, ethnicity, age, economic status, or level of education. We are leaders in providing access to the arts for persons with disabilities. Again, a private entity would not be required to provide this level of service, and the arts would be considered elitist, only accessible to those fortunate citizens that have the means to access them on their own.

The third is catalytic effect. When an arts organization receives a grant from TCA, they are getting the State's "seal of approval," which can be leveraged to obtain additional support from foundations, corporations and private citizens. It elevates the status of the funded project and demonstrates the high quality and standards expected by the State. Loss of this designation would result in the loss of this important catalytic effect. Ultimately, this will trickle down and be felt in terms of loss of economic development in communities throughout Texas.

Recommendation to dissolve the Texas Cultural Endowment Fund
The Sunset Staff Report also recommended the dissolution of the 13-year-old Texas Cultural Endowment Fund that was created in 1993 as a potential permanent funding source for TCA. The Sunset staff justified the recommendation by saying the fund has been perpetually under-funded. The Endowment was projected to reach $200 million by 2005, but currently has only $14 million in the corpus. At the time the Endowment was created, the Legislature intended to designate a tax source as the funding mechanism. Such a designated tax source was never agreed upon by the Legislature and the only funds currently in the Endowment came in the form of biennial appropriations of $2 million plus private funds raised by the Texas Cultural Trust Council and associated interest.

According to the Sunset Staff Report, dissolving the fund would free up about $10 million for legislators to use on the arts or other purposes. Private sector funds would be returned to the donor. TCA disagrees with that recommendation, and hopes to see the fund re-purposed. During the 79th Legislative session, HB 2208 was passed giving TCA regulatory authority to designate cultural districts in communities engaged in revitalization, downtown redevelopment, and those looking for alternative economic development strategies. This legislation did not come with any funding, and TCA believes re-purposing funds in the Texas Cultural Endowment Fund towards support for cultural districts is appropriate and of benefit to the State.

Interestingly, as part of Mr. Wolf's comment regarding the discontinuation of TCA through the Sunset process, he suggested the agency develop a plan to move to the private sector and take the "golden handshake" of the state. The Texas Cultural Endowment Fund was originally intended to be that "golden handshake." Had the Endowment been achieved by 2005 as originally intended, TCA would now operate off the interest earnings of the corpus and no longer be dependent upon a biennial appropriation from state general revenue. This would have allowed TCA to operate much like a private entity in terms of being responsible for our own financial success while at the same time preserving our all important public mission of equity, access and catalytic funding for non-profits.

Recommendation to limit the focus of the agency, especially with regard to arts education activities
The Sunset Staff recommends TCA should not be involved in arts education programming but should instead only provide support for arts education in the form of grants to nonprofits. TCA feels this is a misinterpretation of our mission and enabling legislation. The Sunset Advisory Commission specifically questioned the work TCA is doing with regard to an arts education research study, and the study's value to the state. This research is important because it will help us better understand the specific causal effect arts training has on cognition. If we learn that arts education improves cognitive ability in our students by improving focus, memory, ability to study and reason, then we can begin to positively impact our entire education system. Our goal is to harvest empirical data on the direct impact of arts education on student achievement. Having achieved that goal we hope to ensure that state mandated curriculum requirements in the fine arts are finally realized and that comprehensive fine arts staffing exists in every Texas school. We believe TCA should be positioned as a leader and facilitator in this type of research.

Numerous TCA Commissioners and constituents attended the Sunset Hearing, and we thank those who took the time to travel to Austin to provide oral testimony as well as those of you that provided the Sunset Advisory Commission with written testimony.

On May 2nd and 3rd the Sunset Commission will meet again to discuss their recommendations for the TCA. This will be the basis for any legislation introduced in the 80th Regular Session to abolish, continue, or in any way alter the Texas Commission on the Arts.

The Sunset Advisory Commission will continue to accept written information from TCA and the public until April 7, 2006. If you wish to provide your input, please address your letters to:

The Sunset Advisory Commission Staff
P. O. Box 13066
Austin, TX 78711-3066

If you wish to view the hearing online, you may do so at:

The Texas Commission on the Art's hearing begins at the 6 hour and 4 minute mark.

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