Advocates want more art teachers in Utah schools and another financial boost for cultural groups

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Art teacher Cindy McKay works with students at Cyprus High School in Magna on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019.

The Utah Cultural Alliance wants to make sure there is an art teacher working in every elementary school in the state — and it’s asking the Utah Legislature for $15 million over five years to make that happen.

The request is one of the alliance’s top priorities in the session underway, as the arts community tries a new, more unified approach to requesting public funding.

The Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program currently funds arts educators for more than 202,000 students in 300 Utah elementary schools in 31 districts, including more than 30 charter schools.

Appropriations for the program are about $11 million per year, with 80% coming from the state and 20% from local school districts. And while some districts already have one arts specialist per school, the additional funding would ensure no less than one per two schools in every district, said Crystal Young-Otterstrom, UCA’s executive director.

“It puts hundreds of teachers in elementary schools,” Young-Otterstrom said. “The kids work with them once a week. And those same [art] teachers work with the regular teachers to help them create art-integrated curriculum.”

Among other arts requests:

POPS • The Utah Cultural Alliance is also seeking additional funding for Professional Outreach Program in the Schools, which funds visits to schools by professional arts organizations’ educational programs. Sponsored by the Legislature and managed by the Utah State Board of Education, POPS received a one-time, $225,000 appropriation in 2019 to bring three more organizations into the program; UCA is lobbying to make that a permanent addition to the approximately $5 million POPS receives annually.

Plan B Theater, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and Nora Eccles Harrison Museum in Logan were added in 2019.

Other participating groups are Utah Opera, Utah Symphony, Ballet West, Repertory Dance Theater, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Tanner Dance, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Spyhop Youth Media, Utah Film Center, Utah Festival Opera, Springville Museum of Art and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

ISEE • The Informal Science Education Enhancement program, which makes similar school visits, is seeking a similar increase. Also funded at about $5 million a year, ISEE received a $200,000 one-time appropriation to accommodate Utah’s growing student population. The group’s members are seeking to make that ongoing.

The organizations in ISEE — which is also funded by the Legislature and managed by the State Board of Education — are the Clark Planetarium, Discovery Gateway, HawkWatch International, Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, Natural History Museum of Utah, Ogden Nature Center, Thanksgiving Point, The Leonardo, Red Butte Garden and Hogle Zoo.

Art sustainability grants • The UCA is also asking the Legislature to add at least $3 million — and, preferably, $5 million — to its arts sustainability grants. The Legislature added $2 million in 2019, bringing the current total to $3.5 million. Gov. Gary Herbert’s budget proposal would add another $3 million.

“The goal is $8.5 million. That’s what we feel is the right size for this,” said Young-Otterstrom. “That would provide 3% of operating budgets for these arts and museum organizations.”

The grants are spread across dozens of arts organizations, which have, in the past, gone to the Legislature with individual requests. Legislators have “expressed a strong preference for cultural entities coming in through the grants,” Young-Otterstrom said, “and it has made a difference this year.”

There are about 40 requests from arts organizations before the Business, Economic Development and Labor subcommittee; in past years, there have been 70 to 80. And the “vast majority” of this year’s proposals are for one-time capital projects — equipment and buildings, including everything from replacing failing lighting systems at the Utah Shakespeare Festival to a new ticket office for Tuacahn Center for the Arts — which legislators want to see as separate proposals, she said.

“The vast, vast majority [of arts organizations] are playing by the new rules,” Young-Otterstrom said. “And [the Legislature] will, hopefully, grow the grants to accommodate all of those needs.”

Film tax incentives • The UCA is also advocating for increased funding for the Utah Film Commission’s tax incentive program, currently set at $8.29 million, to help bring television and film production to the state. “It’s a moving target right now,” Young-Otterstrom said.

The governor’s proposed budget called for no change to tax incentive funding; there’s a proposal from the legislative fiscal analyst to cut $750,000 from the program. The funding will be discussed at an upcoming hearing.

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