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Pennsylvania ​Arts Funding May Be Slashed Considerably

May 21, 2009 By:
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The prospect, however remote, that Pennsylvania might eliminate grants to arts and cultural organizations has unnerved some Jewish groups already battling the fiscal currents and struggling to stay afloat.

The Pennsylvania State Senate included in its budget proposal a plan to eliminate funding for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. The council, part of Gov. Ed Rendell's office, provides grants to 1,500 organizations across the state, including Jewish institutions such as the Gershman Y and Theatre Ariel.

The Republican-controlled Senate, which passed its budget 30-20, along party lines, voted to eliminate the $14 million that had been allocated to the council in Rendell's budget proposal, which was introduced earlier in the year and already represented a more than $1 million cut to the commission.

The Democrat-controlled House is now working on its own budget -- one that observers said would hew much closer to the governor's.

Observers said that it's unlikely that the Senate cuts will make it through the entire process, though it remains to be seen whether the compromise will more closely resemble Rendell's vision or the Senate's.

Theatre Ariel, a professional Jewish theater company founded in 1991 and based in Montgomery County, received a $4,453 grant from the council for the current fiscal year. Its current operating budget is roughly $100,000.

While the loss of that money wouldn't force the group to close, it might result in further cutbacks to performances and projects, according to its founder and director, Deborah Baer Mozes.

The theater has already scaled back its performance schedule as synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and festivals that have typically hosted Ariel have also had to make budget cuts.

Mozes said that if arts funds are cut substantially, it could reverse a two-decades-long trend of growth in the Philadelphia arts community.

"It would be so sad to see the clock turned back," said Mozes.

In addition, the Gershman Y received $10,714 for the current fiscal year, and the National Museum of American Jewish History got $4,484.

The Pennsylvania Historic and Museum commission is another government agency that distributes grants. While the Senate's budget did not call to eliminate its funding, it did include a 25 percent cut, which amounts to $4.4 million.

That would come on top of Rendell's own budget proposal to cut the commission's funding from $28.5 million to $26.6 million, which had already created a budget shortfall that is threatening to lead to the closure of several historic sites.

The National Museum of American Jewish History received a $33,000 grant from the commission in the current fiscal year to go toward its $2.5 million operating budget.

The previous year, it received $45,000. Right now, next year's figure seems anyone's guess.

"We are grateful for any support we get from the state," said museum spokesperson Jay Nachman. "These are tough economic times, and we understand that funding is very difficult."

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