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White: Mississippi Arts Commission could be eliminated and merged

Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Arts Commission.

A bill has been presented to legislature by Senate Tourism Chairwoman Lydia Chassanoil, R-Winona. The bill would eliminate the Mississippi Arts Commission and transfer it’s responsibilities to the Mississippi Development Authority.

MAC was formed in 1968 to fund, support, and service the arts in Mississippi. While MAC often partners with the MDA to talk about arts as economic development Director Malcolm White says that is not their only mission.

“They [MDA] are an agency of the executive branch of government, We [MAC] are an independent stand alone agency and the arts do not need to be political, we are an A-political agency,” said White. “Every dollar we grant out is juried by professionals, reviewed by the staff, and the final say is the board of commissioners.”

The bill, SB2611, that has been presented, would dismantle the board of commissioners. In White’s opinion the consolidation would take the small, and democratic granting policy and procedure of MAC and change the fundamental way in which grants are made.

“It’s a problem because we have totally different missions, we administer grants in a totally different way, it’s a problem because the MDA was created for economic development, job creation, and workforce,” said White.

No conversation took place between MAC, the bill author, the Governor’s office, or MDA before the bill was filled on Friday. White says the entire thing came as a shock.

“Friday morning when I woke up I was under the impression we were doing a great job. All we heard were compliments and accolades about the magnificent work we have been doing at the Arts Commission,” said White.

White said that the only argument he has heard for this consolidation was for efficiency, but he believes that this absorption would not allow MAC to function inside a massive bureaucracy like MDA, thus becoming ineffective.

He said there has been no evidence that this concept of merging the two agencies will be beneficial, and no plan moving forward. He said that this inadequacy was proved when he was not approached about potential mergers or restructuring.

The state has currently been heavily focused on agency consolidation, a task that Gov. Bryant and his current administration have been the leaders in.

Other agencies effected in consolidation efforts include the combining of agricultural, animal health, environmental quality, and forestry into the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, Commerce and Natural Resources.

“The manta at the Mississippi legislature is performance based budgeting. I would love for someone to show me the performance documentation of this merger. There has been no evidence, no research, and no plan presented that this will be a good idea or benefit the people of Mississippi,” said White.

The Commission is funded in part by the state but also receives funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. These funds allow the Commission to provide financial support in the form of grants for eligible arts programs and for the work of individual artists.

“Arts is our number one tourism driver,” said Gov. Phil Bryant. “I don’t want to do away with the Arts Commission. I think we need that board and advisory in a support manner.”

Gov. Bryant said that under the Mississippi Development Authority is the Tourism department directed by Craig Ray, and then there is the Mississippi Arts Commission. He believes that these are two agencies doing the same thing.

Chassoniol, the bill author, is a former chairperson of the arts commission.

News Mississippi reached out to Chassoniol for a comment in which she responded, “There is nothing new to discuss. Perhaps if the bill moves out of committee.”

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