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SC arts community hopes grass-roots campaign will sway legislators

The S.C. arts community, reacting to Gov. Nikki Haley's proposal last week to cut state money for the S.C. Arts Commission, has been flooding legislators with phone and e-mail messages.

The effort doesn't have much time.

The first discussion of the Arts Commission's budget for the state's fiscal year that starts July 1 comes before a House Ways and Means subcommittee Wednesday.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, chairman of that subcommittee, said Monday calls and e-mails have started rolling in from arts groups. Limehouse, who said he considers himself a supporter of the arts, said he hasn't decided his position on the governor's proposal.

"I'm not sure that a 100 percent cut is necessarily the best course of action," Limehouse said. "But we're $830 million out of balance. We have to put everything on the table and be reasonable in approaching this."

Arts backers hope their grass-roots lobbying can sway the opinions of legislators who are lukewarm to the cuts.

But Betty Plumb, executive director of the S.C. Arts Alliance, worries that some legislators will want to show they are working with the new governor in this honeymoon period, and the Arts Commission could end up "the sacrificial lamb."

"It's such a small fraction of the whole budget, but it spreads so far," said Plumb of Rock Hill. "You get so much bang for your buck."

The Arts Commission received about $2.4 million in state money this year. In her State of the State address, Haley suggested cutting the Arts Commission and ETV, saying private money possibly could fill their funding gaps.

But arts leaders say corporate and private donations have shrunk as the economy has struggled, and those donations usually can't be used as matching money for federal arts funding. Money from the state does receive matching federal funds.

The Arts Commission supports community arts programs, artist development and art education throughout the state, often through small grants to local groups.

While the importance of the arts is hard to quantify, the arts community's talking points focus on the economic angle.

Arts leaders say the $2.4 million allocated to the Arts Commission helped generate $91 million in local matching money.

The commission's grants went to 340 projects in 41 counties, spreading arts programs into rural areas that have few private or corporate donors with deep pockets.