The final act for the Fort Worth arts scene?

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on August 13, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Updated Monday, Aug 13 at 10:32 PM

FORT WORTH — Fort Worth, which has long felt a connection to the arts, is now considering severe cuts that would affect some of its most sacred institutions — and arts groups are worried.

"We market ourselves as the city of cowboys and culture, but we forgot to fund the culture part," said Jody Ulich, president of the Arts Council of Fort Worth.

Her non-profit group disperses taxpayer money to 43 arts organizations around the city, from choirs to theaters to the city’s famous museums.

Now, the Arts Council is facing a 25 percent budget cut from the City of Fort Worth, the latest in a series of cuts over the past four years.

"We’re really approaching the bone," Ulich said. "It’s almost too much to recover from... I know that programs will be thinned down."

Already, groups like the Texas Ballet Theater have suffered severe cutbacks. Ulich worries others might have to slash performances or close altogether.

She hopes to convince city leaders to fund arts groups with a share of tax money collected by hotels. The move, she says, would free up more money from the general fund for city services, but it would potentially shift dollars away from the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"If the arts go away, people go away," Ulich said.

Fort Worth spends $716,000 every year on arts programs. City leaders want to cut that figure by $266,000.

Critics complain the city already is among the thriftiest of Texas cities when it comes to the arts, devoting less than a dollar per citizen to the arts.

Other cities like San Antonio and Austin spend close to $6 per capita. Dallas devotes $3 on arts for every person in the city.

Even smaller suburbs like Plano, Richardson and Irving spend twice as much per capita on arts than does Fort Worth.

"There’s a great arts product here, but you’ve got to invest in that product," said Randy Cohen, with Americans for the Arts.

Cohen recently released a survey measuring the economic impact of the Fort Worth arts culture. He said it employs 3,000 people and generates $84 million for the local economy.

A typical audience member spends about $17 when they go out to see a show or visit a museum in Tarrant County, Cohen added.

"You can't let the goose that's laying these golden eggs not be fed," he said.

Musicians like Danny Stone, who also works for the Arts Council, worries that groups will cut back on hiring him for concerts and shows.

"It would basically mean a loss of gigs," he said while taking a break from practicing his skills on the bass. "It would mean less opportunities to play."

Mayor Betsy Price warned that this year's $583 million budget is "back to basics." While not calling for any large scale layoffs, it also does not give employees pay raises and demands nearly every department's budget be trimmed — except for police and fire protection.

"Everyone is doing more with less out of necessity," Mayor Price said in a statement. "We hope that our departments and community groups will continue to pursue public-private partnerships as a means of serving citizens."

City services — including mowing the grass in parks and fixing broken streets — would also be scaled back.

The City Council is expected to vote on the budget on September 18.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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