STAFF EDITORIAL: Barrett’s approval of Arts Board budget necessary

When Mayor Barrett decides the future of the Milwaukee Arts Board next Wednesday, let’s hope he aims to nurture, not strangle the arts community.

Barrett originally slashed the 2010 Arts Board’s budget by 75 percent ($110,000), leaving them only $50,000 to work with.

Thankfully, the public outcry for the Arts Board was so great, the Common Council restored the $160,000. Now, it’s up to Tom Barrett to decide the fate of Milwaukee’s acclaimed arts community.

Understandably, cuts on the arts in a recession are usually the first to go. Not all county attractions can be supported by a slim budget, and many art institutions are making do.

One may not think budget cuts to an arts department are a big deal.

But cuts would have a huge impact on our city: The Arts Board provides between $3,000 and $7,000 grants for Milwaukee’s fine arts community.

To cut from the Arts Board cuts from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the Skylight Opera Theatre, discounted student prices and, most importantly, educational programs run by these facilities.

These are growing industries providing income and attractions for Milwaukee. When you hurt the arts community, you hurt Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Public Schools has consistently cut art programs. Art institutions have stepped in to teach and fill the gap.

If the Arts Board budget is cut that severely, MPS students would have even fewer art options.

Milwaukee has a vibrant arts community that provides recognition and funds for the city.Edo de Waart, famed director of the Milwaukee Symphony who’s led the Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Minnesota, Sydney and San Francisco orchestras and the nationally recognized Milwaukee Art Museum.

We need to be supportive and build up this industry — cutting a board’s budget so harshly would only hurt Milwaukee’s reputation and a growing part of its economy.

Milwaukee’s fine arts community has already been hurt in the past few years by the economy. Milwaukee Shakespeare had to close due to lack of funding from the Argosy Foundation.

The Skylight Opera suffered massive boycotts after firing its beloved artistic director because of budget issues.

And power couple Carrie and Sam Van Hallgren left Milwaukee — Carrie was managing director of Milwaukee Shakespeare and Sam was programming director for 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.

Thankfully, county funding for places like the Marcus Center for Performing Arts and the Public Museum have remained flat over the past couple years.

However, if we want to continue to enjoy all that Milwaukee’s art scene offers, it’s imperative that Barrett approves this restored budget, especially for MPS students who don’t have access to art programs without the help of the Arts Board.