In February, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy proposed a fiscal year 2020 budget that included no funding for the arts. The Alaska legislature rejected that proposal and passed (with bipartisan support) a budget bill that included a $693,500 state general fund allocation for the Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA), an amount similar to prior years. However, Governor Dunleavy line item vetoed 182 items from the budget package—$444 million in funding—including elimination of all funds for ASCA. The legislature assembled for a special joint session to consider override action but failed to achieve the 45-vote threshold needed to override the veto package, effectively zeroing out all funding for the agency.
The severity of the situation in Alaska is without precedent. These budget cuts will have significant human and economic consequences for the state. These line item vetoes have removed funding from Alaska’s university system, health care, social services, aid to municipalities, K-12 schools, public broadcasting, libraries, and more. The impact on the arts in Alaska is staggering as well. With the complex, quasi-public nature of the ASCA, while the state saves $700K, the agency actually loses $2.8MM in that and other related arts endowment and private foundation funding. And the veto package makes Alaska the only state in the country without a functioning state arts agency. The importance of ASCA’s work across the state cannot be understated, and advocates have rallied around the state arts agency to demonstrate that the arts are vital to Alaska communities across the state. Record numbers of advocates have mobilized, showing just how deeply Alaskans value their state arts agency and creating considerable momentum for future rebuilding efforts. It is clear that every attempt will be made to restore funding in FY2021.
WESTAF will make every possible allowance to keep Alaska in its family of participating states and will continue to support ASCA unconditionally as it begins the process of rebuilding. WESTAF has over the years provided advocacy funds for lobbying efforts and ASCA Trustee meetings, and, more recently, funded legislative advocacy efforts that helped to restore funding when the agency’s budget had been zeroed out. WESTAF was also involved in ASCA’s strategic planning, which had been ongoing before economic conditions worsened. WESTAF is standing by to help in whatever way it can to restore an arts funding structure for Alaska in FY2021.
There is a lot of hard work to come and hopefully much that can be learned for Alaska’s future and for the future of arts funding. As WESTAF Emerging Leaders of Color Program alumna and Alaskan Christy NaMee Eriksen so beautifully expresses in her video essay Love Letter to Alaska: “I don’t believe in numbers. I believe in people.” We believe in people too. And we believe in the power of impassioned people working together to make change happen. We look forward to what’s to come.