David and Art - "Texas and the Arts"

Sep 2, 2019

The Texas Commission on the Arts is a quiet state agency that seeks to spread access to the arts to everyone in the state.

Here’s a little Texas tidbit for those who have grown tired of telling friends from elsewhere that we have 254 counties: The state of Texas now offers more than 500 different kinds of specialty license plates.

I’m oddly impressed by this, but I’m much more pleased by the fact that anywhere I’ve gone in the state the most prevalent one of these seems to be the “State of the Arts” plate.  For every one of them, the Texas Commission on the Arts receives $22 of the $30 annual special plate fee. And I think it’s a relatively safe bet that most of the people who have one on their car count as a friend of the arts.

At the same time though, many more people don’t even know that there is a Texas Commission on the Arts and that it works to further the cause of the arts in Texas. If you’ve been to the Waco Cultural Arts Festival, for example, you’ve seen TCA grant dollars at work in this community.

The rationale for using public dollars to support the arts now usually boils down to three basic notions: The arts are an essential element of a community’s quality of life; they’re a major component in what should be regarded as a complete education; and, they’re a catalyst for economic development.

Back in 2010, the TCA spent 22 cents per Texan on the arts.  This year that number has fallen to 18 cents per capita, placing Texas 46th out of the 50 states.  Only Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Kansas spend less on the Arts per capita than Texas.  Oklahoma by contrast, hardly a bastion of high-brow elitism, spends 71 cents per capita on its State Arts Commission.  At the top of this list is Minnesota, which spends 7 dollars per capita, followed by Hawaii, Maryland, and Delaware.

In terms of absolute numbers, New York spends the most on its arts commission, at about 45 million a year.  For Fiscal Year 2019, the Texas legislature appropriated five million, 43-thousand dollars for the Texas Commission on the Arts.  Just looking at the total number Texas doesn’t faire quite so poorly, ranking 16th.

The TCA also designates cultural districts in cities across Texas, operates a public art initiative that helps cities with their public arts programs, and maintains a rural program to make sure that the arts aren’t just limited to cities.  In addition, 25% of its grant budget for the next year will go to arts education activities designed to serve over 1 million students across the state.

I can’t help but think how much more it could do if the Texas legislature would just spend $1 per capita, still under the National average, on the arts in our state.  How many more kids might discover that the arts are something they love?  How many more lives and communities could be enriched?