On late Sunday evening, the Texas House of Representatives passed an austere $164.5 billion budget, which included an amendment that slashes $3.5 million in contributions to the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) and transfers the monies to the Department of Aging and Disability Services. If approved by the Senate and a joint conference committee, the TCA would lose all general revenue funds.
However, TCA executive director Gary Gibbs is hopeful that the Texas Senate will continue to support the agency and that some compromise with the House can be reached.
"The amendment, which was narrowly passed, would make it difficult for this agency to continue to operate. We hope that once the Senate's budget passes, the conference committee will hold us up," said Gibbs, whose career in the arts includes an 18-year stint as director of education and outreach at Houston Grand Opera.
Texas' current spending on the arts is already in an embarrassing state. In a report by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, arts appropriation averages a mere 25 cents per person, ranking it 44 out of the 50 state arts agencies.
"Texas just has small government," Gibbs said in a February interview when the proposed budget cuts first attracted attention. "The budget is much lower across the board: education, health and human services, criminal justice. It has traditionally been a small government philosophy."
Despite the grave state of the arts, Gibbs is working to secure the TCA's viability. "We hope that we'll be preserved so that when times are better, we'll still be intact to continue to do what we do," he said.
The state legislature's final budget decision likely won't be reached until the end of the session on May 30. Until then, Gibbs encourages Texans to contact their state representatives and ask that they advocate for the Texas Commission on the Arts.
Read previous CultureMap coverage of the TCA's impact on Houston art groups here.