Arts and Culture

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has earmarked $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to go toward nonprofit arts and culture organizations in his proposed budget.

The governor delivered his budget address last Thursday. But he began teasing out portions of it in news releases, including the ARPA funding toward the arts, leading up to his speech after Republican members of the State House introduced their own initial spending plan early in the 2022 regular legislative session, a break from the traditional order of operations

Kentucky arts and business leaders came together to convince the governor of the importance in helping the arts survive and thrive. Recently retired LG&E and KU Energy CEO and president Paul Thompson, who also serves in a board leadership role for Fund for the Arts, was a member of that group. 

Thompson said they originally asked for $50 million, based on U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports showing that arts and culture production adds more than $5 billion to the Bluegrass State’s economy.

“So we thought 1% of that figure to help push the arts back into a very positive position made sense,” he said. 

While the $10 million is a fraction of that, Thompson said they understand that there are a lot of industries struggling, and it’s still encouraging to see the dedicated funds.

“The arts gets, historically, very, very small amounts of money,” he continued. “This is not tourism, not hotels, not conventions. This is arts, the organizations that put on plays, that do things in schools with kids. It’s orchestras, different organizations, visual [arts] and so on all across the state.”

The pandemic hit the arts and culture sector hard — and it continues to wreak havoc on an industry that has largely relied on large gatherings for a primary source of revenue.

“With the nature of our arts and creative organizations usually being audience-based in some way, continuation of COVID has just continued to disrupt programming,” said Lori Meadows, chairperson of the advocacy nonprofit Kentuckians for the Arts

Meadows was also a part of the group lobbying for the arts to receive a piece of the ARPA pie. She said the arts do more than add economic value to a community.

“You also have to look at what the arts have done for the state during COVID. All of the arts organizations that could no longer do in-person programming, so many of them immediately picked up virtual programming, often at no cost to the virtual audience members,” she said. “And that really gave people, I think, something to focus on, something to pay attention to, to bring them hope and some joy.”

She’s “cautiously optimistic” about the funding remaining in the state budget. 

But Republican lawmakers will get the final say. They have sizable majorities in both chambers, and can override any of the governor’s vetoes. 

The first spending bill introduced in the House, HB 1, did not designate any federal pandemic relief money for arts and culture. However, HB 285, introduced Thursday, did include the $10 million as suggested by Beshear.  

WFPL News sent inquiries to several Republican state House and Senate members, including State Sen. Wil Schroder, who represents the 24th District in northern Kentucky. 

In an email, he said the senate will review the state budget after they get it from the House.

It’s still early in the budget-writing process. Lawmakers are expected to finalize the budget plan in the coming weeks.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.