It was one of former Mayor Rocky Anderson’s proudest achievements and favorite times of year: the Salt Lake City International Jazz Festival.
But current Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker doesn’t dig the price tag. The city has been one of the festival’s financial backers since the jazz festival’s inception nine years ago. But Mayor Becker has left the city’s $35,000 festival subsidy off the proposed budget he’s submitting to the City Council.
The proposed cut is a small part of millions of dollars in reductions the mayor is recommending in the face of an anticipated drop in revenue. Like every other government program, arts funding is taking a hit during the recession.
“It’s a major disappointment given the hard work we put in to putting Salt Lake on the map, which [the festival] has kind of done,” says Jerry Floor, whom Anderson asked to start the jazz festival in 2001. Floor argues the festival brings thousands of attendees to downtown and can help the economy.
Anderson, who acted as a festival fund-raiser during his time in office, lauds the festival for the diversity and prestige it brought to Salt Lake City. “Events like the jazz festival in large part define a community. It’s about quality of life. It’s about bringing every kind of person together, especially when it’s free,” he says. “We built that jazz festival up to the point that it was a major institution. To take [it] entirely out of the budget is extremely penny wise and pound foolish.”
The end of the city subsidy comes on top of the loss of Delta Air Lines’ sponsorship. Delta pulled out of the festival in 2008 as the airline’s business was contracting. That resulted in the festival charging for tickets for the first time in 2008. Since Becker’s decision to drop city sponsorship, the festival has lost several additional sponsors, Floor says. “I acknowledge the mayor’s challenge.
I’m just sad the city has chosen for ours to be part of the cuts,” says Floor, president of the production company that produces the jazz festival. “Cutting back and cutting out are different. … Zero is making it very difficult.”
In a prepared statement, Mayor Becker said that since informing festival organizers that the city´s subsidy would not continue, he has personally been lobbying potential private sponsors to raise money for the jazz festival. “Within our means, we will continue to be very supportive,” Becker wrote. The city is currently reviewing its events policy to ensure fairness.
“We want to treat our events equitably,” Becker wrote. The city’s hand is being forced by big drops in its take from the sales tax, which is projected to be down at least $3 million. The decline in salestax receipts doesn’t bode well for arts programming beyond the city’s purview, either.
Salt Lake County residents historically have been very good to the arts, passing a sales tax on themselves 12 years ago specifically to fund dance, music and theater. Grants from the Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) tax help infuse the budgets of nearly every arts group in the county and operate county-run venues including the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Abravanel Hall and Capitol Theatre.
Vicki Bourns, ZAP program manager for the county, hasn’t seen numbers yet for this summer’s round of ZAP grants but says all indications point to belt tightening; this year’s ZAP tax receipts were already 17 percent below those in 2007. Funding for big recipients such as the Utah Symphony and Ballet West was reduced by hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2008. Donations from wealthy individuals and corporations also are down. Kennecott, a longtime reliable funding group for arts organizations, has said it will be trimming its contributions as its own profits dwindle.
At Salt Lake City’s Art Barn, the headquarters of the Salt Lake City Arts Council, director Nancy Boskoff says budgets she’s seeing from arts groups all show cutting back. But unlike elsewhere in the country where, in recent months, symphonies, opera companies and theaters have gone belly up or abruptly ended their seasons, the arts in Utah won’t be disappearing. Boskoff says that’s because arts organizations here are being smart about making ends meet—cutting back on expenses and shortening runs, but staying in front of the artgoing public that supports them. Companies’ survival efforts will be helped a little by the federal stimulus, which actually includes a $50 million increase of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. “It’s very positive to know arts has risen to the level where people are saying, ‘Yeah, they contribute to the economy, too,’” Boskoff says. Boskoff says the Salt Lake City Arts Council may trim back, but she does not anticipate having to eliminate any program entirely—at least through this summer. Council programs include the Brown Bag lunch-time performances and the popular Twilight Concert Series in downtown Salt Lake City.
Ruth Draper wishes the statewide Utah Arts Council would take a similar approach. The state arts council has chosen to meet the Legislature’s budget-cutting mandate by eliminating most of the programmers’ salaries for the state’s Folk Arts Program. Draper, who built the program as council director in the mid-1970s, says the decision is tantamount to shooting the program dead. Unlike the symphony or the Utah Arts Festival, she says it is unlikely that wealthy citizens will rally to pick up fund-raising for the Folk Arts Program, which collects and showcases Western arts, like quilt-making, and the traditional art that immigrant communities bring to Utah. Over at the Art Barn, Boskoff predicts the arts will weather the economic storm, in part because public demand for art continues even in a down economy. “People do want to go out and enjoy music, go to gallery stroll. They may not buy anything, but they definitely want to interact with the arts,” she says. Floor likewise is determined that Salt Lake City’s jazz festival will go on in some form come July. He’s searching for foundation money to shore up the budget and has set a mid-May deadline for determining the scope of the 2009 festival.
“It’s one those affordable-entertainment things that is a necessity for the city, especially in these times,” he says.