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State Cuts Shock Fairfield County Arts Community

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Two of Fairfield County’s leading arts and cultural centers – the Stamford Center for the Arts and the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk — could lose significant state funding as part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed 2012-13 fiscal budget.

Leaders in the arts community throughout Connecticut were stunned Thursday by the sudden and unexpected prospect of losing anticipated funding for the next fiscal year.

However, initial media reports Wednesday that the proposed cuts could total more than $11 million and result in elimination of all state funding at numerous arts and cultural centers, is not true, according to Ben Barnes, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, and Andrew Doba, Malloy's director of communications.

Leaders in the arts and community say they don’t like being in the dark about their funding.

“Along with Mystic Aquarium, we are the leading driver of tourism in Connecticut with more than 500,000 visits annually – 40 percent from out of state that generates substantial tourism revenue,” said Jennifer Herring, president and CEO of the Norwalk Aquarium. She urged the state legislature’s Appropriations Committee on Wednesday to fund the aquarium its full $530,000 anticipated allocation. Herring said that amount had already been cut by more than $40,000.

“It would be catastrophic to have a large spending cut by the state, and this has caught all of us by complete surprise,” Herring said Thursday. “Slicing away at our budgets in pieces every year is having a detrimental effect on our artistic and cultural institutions.”

Barnes and Doba said Thursday there was a misunderstanding about the extent of the funding cuts that left the mistaken impression there would be zero state funding – when in fact, only the formula is changing to make the cultural centers “more accountable.”

Barnes indicated Thursday in a statement that “the Department of Economic and Community Development will develop a phase-in approach for funding in (the new fiscal year) that guarantees existing earmark recipients will receive 80% of the allocation they received the prior year, with the remainder being allocated on a competitive basis.”

While that will mean some budget cuts to arts and cultural centers, it was never intended to cut all of their funding, said Doba.

“I want to emphasize they (arts and cultural centers) are not being stripped of all their funding, not even close,” said Doba. “The way the budget was presented made it appear to some that these funds were being zeroed out. There will be only a small reduction in funding to the arts.”

Barnes said, “I would like to clarify any misunderstandings about the proposal to change the way the state funds arts organizations. Let me be clear, the proposed budget does not eliminate funding for arts organizations.

“Our goals in making these changes are simple – we want to create a system that demands accountability standards and sets performance benchmarks for organizations that receive state money,” he said.

“The system we want to work toward will demand accountability, and the competitive nature by which the grants will be allocated could in fact increase funding for some groups.  And just as importantly, it will let taxpayers know that their hard earned dollars are going to worthwhile projects that enrich their lives,” Barnes said. He said the new funding process will be outlined in March.

But Herring said not knowing the impact of that process, or how much state funding would be allocated to the Norwalk aquarium “makes it impossible for us to plan and budget. We’re already cut to the bone.”

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