Though lawmakers staved off the pending fiscal cliff during the recently ended special session, the state budget they funded delivers a potentially fatal blow to two iconic downtown Baton Rouge cultural attractions—The Shaw Center for the Arts and the Old Governor’s Mansion.
Under the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, The Shaw Center, which is operated through a cooperative endeavor agreement between the state, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and LSU, will lose some $800,000 in operating funds.
The Old Governor’s Mansion, meanwhile, which is home to the statewide preservation group Preserve Louisiana and also serves as a historical museum, will lose some $100,000.
Both facilities have depended on state operating funds to cover expenses like utilities, maintenance and grounds care, among other things.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne has given the operators of both entities until Oct. 1 to come up with a way to pick up a greater share of their operating expenses. He says no one at the state wants to close down such valuable cultural attractions, but the administration had to make cuts—despite passage of a 4.45% of a penny sales tax—and no agency was exempt.
“We recognize the value of these two great facilities and want them to operate in a productive way,” Dardenne says. “But our responsibility has been to see where we can reduce governmental expenses and as we’ve faced the fiscal challenges (over the past couple of years) we’ve had to look at everything.”
The state has covered the operating costs for the Old Governor’s Mansion since 1998, and for the Shaw Center since 2005.
It is unclear what the reduction in state funding would mean to The Shaw Center, and BRAF President and CEO John Davies says BRAF declines to comment at this time.
But the executive director of Preserve Louisiana, Fairleigh Cook Jackson, says finding $100,000 in her already cash-strapped budget to cover the costs of operating the 88-year-old building on North Boulevard is more than the organization can muster.
“While we are well aware of the state’s financial situation, incurring the costs to maintain the state-owned Old Governor’s Mansion would directly impede our ability to fulfill our mission of advocacy and education on behalf of our state’s rich cultural and architectural history,” Jackson says.
The funding cuts caught the operators of both facilities by surprise. Though the state has had general discussions with both groups over the past couple of years about shifting more operating expenses their way, Jackson, for one, says Preserve Louisiana did not know its funding had been slashed until earlier this week.
In recent days, the Capital Region legislative delegation has reached out to the administration and lobbied to restore the operating funds. Groups like Visit Baton Rouge are also getting in on the effort.
“We are concerned, as both the Shaw Center and the mansion are iconic buildings and attractions and part of the product we offer to visitors,” Visit Baton Rouge President and CEO Paul Arrigo says. “We hope that both are able to remain operational, as a loss of either or both would be great.”
Dardenne says he is optimistic talks between the state and both entities will move forward over the next 90 days and that “we will be able to work something out.”
“We’ll have to shift things around,” he says. “We have some flexibility. But we have to work towards a better deal.”