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Governor wants RI to be synonymous with the arts

By DAVID KLEPPER

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) a¿¿ Idaho has potatoes and Maine has lobsters. If Gov. Lincoln Chafee has his way, Rhode Island will be the state Americans associate with the creative arts.

The Democratic governor of the nation's smallest state is calling for a sizable investment in performing arts centers, museums and other facilities that cater to the arts. In a state with shuttered factories, struggling cities and a 9 percent jobless rate, Chafee calls the arts economy a safe bet.

"It's already here. It's all around us in this state," he told The Associated Press. "It just needs a little recognition, a little help. When you look at what the arts can offer the economy, the community, our quality of life, it makes a lot of sense."

States across the country slashed funding for the arts in the wake of the economic downturn. But as the economy slowly recovers, local arts agencies are seeing renewed interest by officials who see arts and culture as a relatively low-risk economic investment.

Big investments in the arts would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, when funding declined precipitously as states around the county grappled with yawning budget deficits. State arts funding a¿¿ which represents less than $1 per American a¿¿ was dispensable compared to dollars for education, health care or other needs.

Overall, total funding to state art agencies dropped by 38 percent after the 2001 recession. Funding rebounded slightly after 2004, but then fell 27 percent from 2008 to 2012. The California Arts Council received $32 million in 2000 and less than $6 million this year. Kansas eliminated its arts commission in 2011 but resurrected it as a much smaller agency a year later.

Startlingly, states like Michigan and Rhode Island a¿¿ which have some of the nation's highest unemployment rates a¿¿ are leading the effort to reverse the trend.

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