Arizona arts commission continues annual grant despite 2015 budget cuts

By Craig Johnson

The Arizona Commission on the Arts awarded money to 10 Arizona artists through a competitive grant program earlier this month, despite a large cut in funding for the 2016 fiscal year.

PHOTO: Juan Freitez, one of the grant recipients, is a documentary filmmaker based in downtown Phoenix. (Craig Johnson)

Steve Wilcox, the director of communication at the Arizona Commission on the Arts, described the grant as an important part of how the commission serves the community.

“Providing funding support toward the professional and artistic development of individual artists in the state has long been a part of our mission at the arts commission,” Wilcox said. “These grants are made to practicing artists who demonstrate strong original work that impacts both their own artistic practice, and the broader community.”

This grant is one of six grants that the commission currently gives out to support the Arizona arts community. This year, there were 102 applicants for the Artist Research and Development Grant, which is now in its third year.

Juan Freitez, a full-time documentary filmmaker based in the downtown Phoenix area, is one of this year’s 10 recipients, who were announced Jan. 11.

“I want to document what’s happening in downtown Phoenix with the arts, with social activists, with health and justice,” Freitez said.

He was awarded $5,000 from the grant to fund his documentary about the PACH Clinic in downtown Phoenix, a volunteer-run clinic that provides free healthcare to the uninsured.

For Freitez, this grant is a major economic and moral boost, enabling him to continue work on his documentary now a year and a half in production.

The Arizona Commission on the Arts sees the continued positive effects it can have on an artist like Freitez as a success in the face of a dramatic decrease in funding for this fiscal year.

The commission’s budget, which currently comes from private donations and corporate filing fees collected by the state, stands at $2.4 million.

In the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, the commission accrued an additional $1 million from the state Rainy Day Fund. That appropriation was not repeated in the 2016 fiscal year.

Additionally, the $2 million that the commission asked to be appropriated by the state this fiscal year were not in included in the budget proposed by Gov. Doug Ducey on Jan. 15.

Requests for comment from the governor’s office were not returned.

During their annual Arts Congress advocacy day on Feb. 4, the Arizona Citizens for the Arts, the state’s main advocacy group for arts, will push legislators to include this $2 million in the final budget.

Arizona Citizens for the Arts cited a study showing that every dollar invested in Arizona arts will return about one and a half dollars in economic activity for the state. The advocacy group has been operating for nearly 35 years and is headed by Executive Director Catherine “Rusty” Foley.

“Arts is a big part of a lot of our communities. It’s a big part of why people like to live here,” Foley said. “It makes huge contributions to the quality of education. It attracts tourists. It supports other businesses.”

Juan Freitez said that he sees the arts as an important educational resource that should not lose funding from the state.

“You’re taking things from education, and it’s one of the main things we should focus on for human development,” Freitez said.

For the Arizona Commission on the Arts, their goal moving forward will remain the same regardless of what the legislature decides.

The commission is now entering its 50th year of operation and is preparing to unveil an initiative called “Next 50” that will define how the commission will continue to serve the Arizona community over the next half century.

“We are undaunted,” Wilcox said. “We’re moving forward with ambition and real focus on serving Arizona’s residents.”

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