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Friday, July 11, 2014

Arts commission still seeking grant money, may need more time

BY BRENT D. WISTROM
Eagle Topeka bureau

TOPEKA — The future of public financing for the arts in Kansas remains mostly an open canvas as the nearly cashless state arts commission regroups and the newly-formed arts foundation seeks tax-deductible donations for the first time.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Arts Commission faces an Oct. 31 deadline to submit a budget and long-term vision to the National Endowment for the Arts in an effort to qualify for 2013 grant money. The state lost anticipated grant money for this fiscal year after Gov. Sam Brownback eliminated the commission's funding.

The NEA has already extended its deadline for the state's plan.

Kathy Herzog, vice chairwoman of the commission, told the Joint Committee on Arts and Cultural Resources on Wednesday that the commission is working hard to get its application in on time. But she said later that it is talking with NEA officials about another extension.

State funding had helped leverage about $800,000 in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and about $400,000 from the Mid-American Arts Alliance in past years.

Brownback's administration has said the arts cuts were part of cost-saving measures and that Kansas should still get its fair share of grant money. But both groups stopped funding Kansas, saying the state no longer met their criteria, which, among other things, requires a cultural plan, staff members and a budget.

That the arts commission is even still active after its funding was vetoed seemed to take some lawmakers by surprise. New volunteer commission members have been meeting to review past funding to set priorities for which groups could get money once it becomes available.

What's to come

The Kansas Arts Foundation, which was set up to raise private money to replace state funds, has been donating office space to the commission, which otherwise operates independently. Herzog said the commission has about $5,000 left in its bank account.

Meanwhile, the foundation on Sept. 14 got approval to operate as a nonprofit. That means it can now accept tax-deductible donations.

Both foundation and commission leaders expressed optimism about raising money to fund at least some of the arts organizations that have relied heavily on state funding.

Herzog said the commission doesn't expect to receive or need as much money in the future as it has gotten in the past.

But arts advocates expressed doubt about the state's cultural arts future without state funds.

Mary Kennedy McCabe, executive director of the Mid-America Arts Alliance, said Brownback's decision means state arts and culture agencies will not have the same opportunities they've had before.

"And without operating grants from the Kansas Arts Commission, a significant number of these organizations may be forced to close, even if they are fortunate enough to secure scarce private funds for an exhibition, performance or school outreach program," she said in prepared remarks.

This summer, Wichita Black Arts Festival leaders canceled the long-standing event, mostly because of cuts in state funding and reduced donations during the recession.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, said she couldn't pump gas or go to the grocery store without someone asking about the arts festival and its future.

"It was just devastating to so many youth organizations that look forward to that all year to display their art," she said.

She asked if groups like the Black Arts Festival would automatically receive funding if it becomes available.

Herzog said that remains unclear and that the commission is still developing a way to prioritize funding, though she said groups that have been hit hardest by the loss of state funding will probably be first in line.

According to a tally by Kansas Citizens for the Arts, Sedgwick County organizations received $114,362 in arts commission funding during the 2011 fiscal year. Among other recipients were the Arts Council, Ballet Wichita, Kansas African American Museum, Mid-America All-Indian Center, Music Theater of Wichita Inc., Tallgrass Film Festival, Wichita Grand Opera, Wichita State University and the Wichita Symphony Society.

"In addition to concerns about the loss of jobs, an underlying concern is the disproportionate effect that the elimination of funding will have on arts opportunities for rural residents," Sarah Fizell, executive administrator for the Kansas Citizens for the Arts, said in prepared remarks.

Kansas alone in approach

In written testimony to the arts committee, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies said Kansas has veered away from the path other states use to fund the arts and predicted that no other state will follow Brownback's lead in eliminating the state art commission budget.

No other state has responded to a recession by eliminating all public funding for its arts agency, the assembly reported. And 25 legislatures maintained or increased public funding of arts agencies.

"Although some state arts agencies secure private funds to underwrite special services or supplement public revenue lines, private funding has never been a significant source of state arts agency funding," the assembly wrote in its testimony. "Nationwide, private contributions and earned income combined represented 0.89 percent of total state arts agency revenue for fiscal year 2011."

The assembly said a $689,000 appropriation to the Kansas Arts Commission in fiscal year 2012 would equal about 0.005 percent of the total state budget.

"This year, the elimination of the Kansas Commission budget has created a net loss for the state, costing Kansas its federal partnership agreement grant and its regional partnership allocation and resulting in the suspension of the agency's programs and services," it wrote. "We do not see other states emulating this decision."

Brownback predicted in June that other states would follow Kansas' lead, focusing public funds on core areas and using private funds to pay for such things as arts.

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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