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Candidates agree on importance of arts but still keep party loyalties

August 1, 2018

NEW HAVEN — Ned Lamont and Tim Herbst agree on something: that educating children extends beyond the school day and it should include the arts.

“I’m as surprised as you are,” Herbst told an audience of about 150 arts and culture advocates.

It’s not a revolutionary idea. But that Lamont, the endorsed Democratic candidate for governor, and Herbst, arguably the most conservative Republican running for the same office, could find common ground was the result of a forum that forced five candidates to go off script from their usual talking points.

The forum, hosted by the Connecticut Arts Alliance and the Connecticut Alliance for Arts Education and held Tuesday in New Haven, included Lamont and Herbst as well as Democrat Joe Ganim, Republican David Stemerman and Independent candidate Oz Griebel, all running for governor.

Candidates still answered questions on the state’s economic crisis, and turned the conversation toward pension reform and infrastructure improvements, but all was done, for the first time, through the lens of arts, culture and tourism.

“When you invest in the arts and when you invest in tourism, the return on that investment that you get helps to grow our economy,” Herbst said. “But the next governor needs to recognize that if we’re going to invest in the arts, we have to dig out of this hole.”

None of the candidates promised more resources for the arts, arts education or tourism — not that anyone was expecting them to — but they agreed organizations in those areas can better serve communities when they at least know what their resources are going to be and all of them promised, at the very least, on-time budgets.

“It’s long overdue that we’ve had a forum about arts and culture,” Lamont said. “The problem isn’t the arts, but the arts will be part of the solution. Education and investment in education is so key to our future. Arts is a big piece of that.”

Even with the general cordial nature of the forum — and the shock of agreement between Herbst and Lamont — partisan politics made their way into the discussion.

“When you talk about partisan politics, unfortunately it’s always been the Democrats that support the arts,” Ganim said. “Some of the candidates on this stage have given Trump an A. He plans to gut the National Endowment for the Arts.”

Funding for the arts has been under siege nationally since the 2016 election, when the Trump administration announced it planned to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, which provides funding to local arts and culture organizations but only makes up .004 percent of the total federal budget. In Connecticut, Republicans have criticized state spending on the arts, arguing that dollars would be better spent elsewhere.

Stemerman defended Republicans while saying he’s been horrified by the cuts to arts, culture and tourism across the state.

“It’s quite telling that the first question about the arts is really about economics,” Stemerman said. “As I think about the arts, they are typically aligned with one party and people think of that as the only party that looks after them. But that’s not true. If you want to support the arts as I do, if you want to have a rich life, to not only work, but to live in Connecticut, you have to solve the state’s economic problems.”

Griebel, who is still working to collect signatures to earn a spot on the November general election ballot, called the state “venue rich.” The state needs to better utilize what it already has, he said.

“How do we take advantage of what is ultimately a finite resource and bring the private funders in,” he said. “That’s the question we need to answer.”

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt

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