CHICAGO — On June 30, 2012, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a state budget that includes a 9.4% cut to funding for the Illinois Arts Council. This was less than feared, but it will undoubtedly have negative implications for cultural organizations, underserved communities, and individuals and organizations applying for humanities grants. The one ray of light is the increase in funding to arts education, though the 63% increase only translates to an extra $250,000.

Illinois is by some estimates the most indebted state in the entire nation, with its current deficit standing at over $43 billion — yes, even worse than legendarily dysfunctional California. With assistance to the poorest members of the community getting slashed, and state group homes under threat of closure, it may be the case that few tears will be shed if a summer festival is cancelled next year or the Lyric Opera of Chicago has to fire some chorus members.

But these arts cuts in Illinois come at a time when in fact a majority of states are due to increase their funding of state agencies in the next fiscal year by an average of 8%. Some of those increases, like New York‘s 10%, are for a single new program rather than across the board. Several states that border Illinois, however, are making real increases in arts funding: 21.4% in Iowa, 3.1% in Wisconsin and a whopping 366% in Michigan.

Illinois spends an average of 63 cents per person on the arts, which puts it in the middle of the pack for the country as a whole at number 29. This is way ahead of dead-last Arizona (0.00 per capita) but way behind first placed Minnesota, which spends $5.77 per capita on the arts. These are indeed tough times, but I wonder if this alters the landscape for the ongoing Chicago Cultural Plan, due to deliver its recommendations in the fall of 2012.

Increasingly, it looks like Chicago is arranging the deckchairs while the ship of state is slowly sinking.

Philip Hartigan is a UK-born artist and writer who now lives, works and teaches in Chicago. He also writes occasionally for Time Out-Chicago. Personal narratives (his own, other peoples', and invented)...