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Joyce DiDonato: Arts need support

  • Published Sunday, June 19, 2011, at 12:07 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, June 19, 2011, at 10 a.m.

With one autonomous slash of the pen, every penny for the arts in my home state of Kansas has vanished, potentially obliterating all matching federal funds along with it. This is the Sunflower State I have proudly boasted about across the world, fearlessly defending it even in the face of harsh, quizzical looks from the most skeptical of folks ("You live where?").

The state of my first piano recital and choir concert, the home field of my artistic curiosity and education, the homeland that taught me to freely dream big and without limitation: one where the arts were once alive, vibrant and supported.

I've welcomed the assumption of being an unsolicited, but mightily proud, artistic ambassador for Kansas to the great cities of the world. But for the first time I feel shame for this — as I see it — horror, for it is an ignorant, shortsighted, fearful and unspeakably damaging act that will have numerous repercussions, damaging the spirit and soul of this great state.

I'm not a politician or historian. I'm a humble opera singer, a homegrown product of an agricultural state that used to value the arts, like all great societies and cultures of the past. But my anger rivals a good ol' western Kansas Category 5 tornado's destructive force when I begin to think of where I'd be without an education fueled by the arts that informed my way of thinking outside the box, without a community theater or choir or art exhibit that gave me true solace and an emergency exit from some of the great crises in my life, or without that musical outlet that helped me understand myself and the mystery of life a little better.

"But what merit is there in that? You can't test it. You can't put a value on it. Must not count for much," they seem to be implying.

So let's talk finances: that almighty, motivating dollar. Alex Aldrich, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council, in the state the Kansas governor used as an example of why this cut was good, argued:

"Every state should invest in the arts sector simply because it makes good economic sense. One of our most conservative policy analysts looked at state and local tax revenues that flowed to state and municipal coffers from our very narrowly defined arts sector in Vermont. Income taxes paid by artists, arts administrators and independent arts contractors ... reveal a total return of $19.45 million on a combined investment of $2.5 million, which includes our $500,000 appropriation. This annual return on investment of 775 percent is even more astonishing since virtually all of Vermont's state tourism dollars promote skiing, outdoor recreation, fall foliage, maple syrup, and artisanal food preparation and service, not art and culture."

Leaving aside any cultural, artistic argument, cutting arts funding is simply bad business. Loss of tax revenue, loss of jobs, loss of neighborhood traffic and business should be reason enough to immediately reinstate funding to the arts in Kansas.

President Kennedy said, "I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well."

We unquestionably need the support of the state of Kansas for the arts, financially as well as culturally.

Joyce DiDonato, a Wichita State University graduate, is a mezzo-soprano who has sung around the world, including at the Metropolitan Opera and La Scala. She will star in "Cendrillon" in July at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London.

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