By Emily Hoefer
Edited by Desiree Murphy
Decked out in white hard hats and pins bearing Mona Lisa's smile, advocates for the arts in South Carolina cheered on legislators filing into the State House Tuesday morning.
"We're talking basic education," said, Glenn Hare, marketing director at Clemson University's Brooks Center for the Performing Arts. "We're talking grass roots arts activities – that's what we're fighting for."
Normally a day that recognizes the South Carolina Arts Alliance, a nonprofit group of arts organizations and educators, this year's Arts Advocacy Day was dedicated to responding to Gov. Nikki Haley's call to cut arts funding in her first State of the State address.
"The reality is the role of South Carolina's government in the year 2011 can no longer be to fund an Arts Commission that costs us $2.5 million," Haley said. She also called for the elimination of funding for South Carolina educational broadcast television.
As legislators moved toward House and Senate chambers, arts advocates handed out letters and shook hands.
Beverly Bunch brought her daughter Tiffany a student at Greenville's Fine Arts Center high school.
"We're here to hopefully let Nikki Haley know how much her decision and the legislators' decisions are going to impact the arts in our state," she said.
Rep. Bakari Sellers, D- Bamberg, said cutting funding to the Arts Commission is not a good idea because the arts are "an essential part of our educational environment."
Brooks Center intern Thomas Hudgins said the arts are more important than the money that will be cut.
"That's a very small price to pay for the payback in terms of the jobs created – tourism dollars created by things like Spoleto, which is funded by the Arts Commission. That's why we're here," Hudgins said.
The South Carolina Arts Commission, a state agency created in 1967, is primarily funded by state tax dollars. The commission awarded more than 340 grants last year, which helped support programs like Columbia's 701 Center for Contemporary Art and the Columbia City Ballet.
Brooks Center director, Lillian Harder, said the group is expecting to endure budget cuts, but the main goal was to avoid total elimination.