Performing arts groups report budgetary cuts

By DEREK MORITZ | September 19, 2019

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EDA INCEKARA/PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR Students fear that new budget cuts will impede future arts programming.

Many performing arts groups on campus are reporting significant budget cuts this year from the Student Activities Commission (SAC), which is the funding board of the Student Government Association (SGA). 

According to Hamilton Sawczuk, the business manager for theater group the Barnstormers, the group received a budget cut of almost 50 percent this year. 

Sawczuk stated that the Barnstormers will not be affected by the cuts this year, though the group is pursuing alternative sources of funding, such as external grants. However, he added that if the annual budget remains at this level in the future, the group would be limited in its ability to put on programming.  

“If this is the budget going forward for five years, then it’s going to have a big impact, at least, on where we get our money from, and if we’re able to put on the same level of productions as before,” he said. “And I know other groups are not as lucky as we are.”

Director of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) Calvin Smith, Jr., stated that some cuts might be due to the fact that groups were asking for funds that extend beyond the purview of the SAC bylaws and guidelines.

“One of the big things that I was finding when working with SAC this year is that a lot of people are asking for stuff that SAC can’t pay for based on their own guidelines,” Smith said. “They ask for a certain amount and they might have gotten cut by 10 percent, 50 percent, 90 percent. The things they were asking for, SAC doesn’t pay for.

According to Smita Ruzicka, the dean of student life, SAC groups overall received a 6 percent increase in allocation from last year, noting that spending decreases were not due to deficits incurred in the past. Last fall, the Office of Student Leadership and Involvement (SLI) informed dozens of student groups that they had deficits in their accounts going back several years, sometimes upward of a decade.  

“If there were specific decreases, it was because the organizations may not have demonstrated a need for more funding in their request or they may not have spent the money last year,” Ruzicka said. 

SGA Executive Treasurer Eric Armstrong, who oversees the dispersal of SAC funds, clarified that the decreases for many arts groups came from requesting too much money in a specific budget category, as there are category-specific caps.

President Madelynn Wellons of Adoremus reported that the a cappella group received no decrease in their budget, adding that she knew from prior experiences which requests would be approved by SLI.

Wellons believes, however, that for presidents of student groups with less experience, it can be difficult to navigate the process. She recommended that SLI train students on SAC’s funding guidelines for specific budgetary categories.

“They don’t tell you why things are not approved; you have to follow up and ask. For example, there’s a cap on travel funding, they don’t fund retreats, things like that,” she said. “It’s really important to make the resources more public so everyone knows... If you’re not connected in SLI then you just don’t know what to do and it can be very confusing.”

Witness Theater reported over a 50 percent decrease in their budget from $3000 to $1400 despite asking for the same amount last year. The alternative theater group wrote in an email to The News-Letter on Sunday that they have contacted SAC regarding the cut, but have yet to receive a response.

The Vocal Chords, an a cappella group, also reported a significant decrease in its budget. The group stated in an email to The News-Letter that the budget cut will impact their ability to perform.

“We’ll make it work with fundraising and grants, but typically we are able to hire independent contractors to do sound for our concerts twice a year, and we barely have the budget to do that even once this year,” they wrote. 

In addition, Ruzicka stated that student groups have made significant strides in lowering their deficit balances in the past year. 

“Any student organization that had a deficit had an individual outreach and we came up with a plan to address that deficit,” she said. “Our deficit overall for our student organizations decreased by 28 percent last year.”

On Monday, Chase McAdams, chair of SGA’s Committee on Student Organizations (CSO), sent a student body-wide email explaining that there would be a hold on the creation process for new clubs this semester. This hold is intended to permit the CSO to work with SLI to conduct an audit on student organizations’ funding and purpose. 

Smith wrote in an email to The News-Letter that the decision to conduct the audit is unrelated to the budgets that arts groups received this semester.

“This review has no bearing on the funds performing arts groups received from SAC this academic year,” he wrote. “The review is not related to current funding levels or the decisions SAC made during the allocation process.” 

Smith also clarified that whereas SAC allocates funds to student organizations, CSO manages the recognition and functioning of student organizations.

Ruzicka noted that her office will strive to maximize efficient allocation of funds for all student groups. 

“My goal ultimately is to be able to have more funds to give to our student groups,” she said. “There’s a lot of work that still is happening and will continue internally behind the scenes.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed a quote from the Vocal Chords to Witness Theater.

 The News-Letter regrets this error.

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