By Ann McCreary
Due to a steady decline in funding for arts education over the past decade, Methow Arts has decided to cut the Missoula Children’s Theatre from its offerings in the Methow Valley School District this year.
Missoula Children’s Theatre is a weeklong program that gives students the opportunity to perform in a play that is presented to the community in public performances. It’s been brought by Methow Arts to the Methow Valley School District since 1998.
The popular program is also one of the more expensive arts education programs supported by Methow Arts, which supports arts education programs in the Methow Valley and five other school districts in Okanogan County.
“Over the past 10 years, Methow Arts’ education funding from federal, state, regional and local sources has declined by 50 percent. We’re now at the same level of funding as we were in 2000,” said Amanda Jackson Mott, Methow Arts director.
“As a small nonprofit with a broad reach, we have been able to accomplish a lot with very little, but our resources are now stretched to capacity,” Jackson Mott said. “We have had to make immediate and dramatic cuts to our offerings. Among other programming reductions, we are cutting Missoula Children’s Theatre.”
State funding, the largest source of Methow Arts’ support, has dropped to $15,300 for the 2017/2018 school year, compared to $35,000 in 2008/2009, Jackson Mott said. A large part of the state funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she said. This year’s annual arts education budget for the six school districts is $37,450, compared to $72,800 in 2008/2009.
“It’s become harder to maintain key programs in the schools,” Jackson Mott said. “We had to make a decision about what to cut.”
Jackson Mott said Methow Arts chose to cut Missoula Children’s Theatre rather than other school programs, such the Fishing Day block print program or “Paper Mache Critters” that are implemented by local teaching artists. Missoula Children’s Theatre is brought to the district through a contract with the Montana-based company that provides actors to direct the show, along with costumes and sets.
“It’s outsourced, where other programs are supporting local teachers and their wages,” Jackson Mott said. She said it costs almost $10,000 to bring Missoula Children’s Theatre, which includes scholarships to help students with participation fees, and staff time for Methow Arts employees. The theater program has “provided 25,500 kid/hours of theater since 2000,” Jackson Mott said.
Methow Arts is also scaling back on the school performances that it offers, reducing the number of performances from five last year to three this year. Methow Arts presents school performances by groups that it books for community performances. The groups are chosen by Methow Arts to provide a diverse, international experience. This year’s performances include Japanese taiko drummers, folk/Americana music, and a Native American rap artist.
In addition to the Methow Valley School District, Methow Arts also provides arts education programs in Pateros, Brewster, Okanogan, Omak and Paschal Sherman school districts. Only one of those districts — Pateros — has a full-time elementary school arts teacher, Jackson Mott said. “In others, including the Methow Valley, Methow Arts is the primary provider” of arts education for grades K-6, she said.
“It’s interesting that art is required [by state education standards] but art education is not funded, particularly in schools in this region,” Jackson Mott said. If Methow Arts’ funding decline continues, the organization may consider eliminating its arts education programs from one or more schools, she said.
The drop in funding at the state and federal levels “has to do with prioritizing needs and budgeting. Many policymakers argue that the arts are an extra and they want to balance the budget,” Jackson Mott said. That doesn’t make sense, she said, given the small amount of federal and state funding that goes to the arts.
NEA receives only 0.004 percent of the total federal budget, “less than one-half of one-hundredth of one percent,” Jackson Mott said. She cited statistics that show the arts generate more than $22 billion annually in tax revenues for federal, state, county and municipal governments.
Methow Arts already is successful at receiving grants, but the organization will be looking for ways to boost funding next year to restore Missoula Children’s Theatre and school performances. “Our goal is to bring it back next year. Our board has a very strong plan of trying to fundraise this year,” she said.