Once vetoed by Dunleavy, funding for Alaska’s arts council is back in the budget

Juneau artists hold up their work at a demonstration outside Sealaska Heritage Institute protesting the budget cuts to the Alaska State Council on the Arts on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (Photo by Annie Bartholomew/KTOO)

When Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed the state’s final operating budget earlier this week, he repeated his earlier vetoes for many state programs and agencies.

But he didn’t repeat all of them. Among the funding the Alaska Legislature restored that the governor let stand was $3,869,600 for the Alaska State Council on the Arts. It caps a turbulent ride for the council.

“It felt horrible. The 28 of June, that was a very rough day for all of us,” said council chair Ben Brown.

That’s when the governor released his initial round of budget vetoes that effectively shuttered the arts council.

At the time, the council had four, full-time employees and a contractor who administered grants, took care of artwork and organized events like the Governor’s Arts and Humanities Awards and Poetry Out Loud. When the council closed its doors, Brown said Alaska became part of a small minority of states.

“Not having a state arts agency has only really happened once before, about a decade ago in Kansas, and it led to the loss of really important programming in Kansas,” Brown said.

As of this week, Alaska left that minority, but it’s not been easy.

“It still has caused tremendous disruption to the staff, and I am still in the process of working with the executive director whom we hope to bring back on board as soon as possible,” Brown said.

Brown believes the funding for his organization wasn’t re-vetoed because the programs the council supports — like the license plate design contest — have broad public appeal across the state.

Once the office is up and running again, artists and arts organizations who had their grants canceled this summer could get some good news.