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Kansas told it won't get any federal arts funding

  • Published Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, at 12:09 a.m.

TOPEKA — Kansas has been told again by the National Endowment for the Arts that it won't receive federal funds, prompting the state Arts Commission's chairwoman to declare that the group will move forward with a "truly Kansas" plan for supporting arts programs with private money.

The NEA told the state commission this week not to bother applying for federal matching funds next year. The National Endowment says the private donations Kansas is now counting on to support the arts don't qualify for the federal match.

Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed the commission's entire budget in May, making Kansas the only state in the nation to eliminate its arts funding. Brownback, a Republican who took office in January, has said the arts still can flourish with private dollars and that the state must focus on "core" functions such as education, social services and public safety.

The governor's veto prompted the NEA and the Mid-America Arts Alliance, a private group based in Kansas City, Mo., to cut off funds as well. The Arts Commission lost nearly $2 million — the $689,000 legislators set aside and $1.3 million from the NEA and the alliance. But Brownback's actions didn't eliminate the law creating the commission, and he has since replaced seven of its 12 members.

The NEA later asked Kansas to submit a new plan for promoting the arts that could qualify the state for federal funds next year. The commission was preparing to do just that by an Oct. 31 deadline when it learned of the NEA's new position.

Commission member Sandra Hartley, a recent Brownback appointee, said that she's upset the NEA waited so long to tell the state.

"You could have told me this in August, and I would have been out raising money instead of doing all the things that the NEA required," said Hartley, a Paola attorney who is also secretary of a local arts coalition.

On Thursday, in response to questions, the NEA issued a statement saying that Kansas still could file an application by the deadline but adding, "All of the application requirements for state partnership are publicly available."

The federal agency's website says that to be eligible for funds, state arts agencies must have "a designated budget" and "designated staff with relevant experience." Also, the requirements say a state agency must "be financially supported by its state government."

Commission members initially disagreed on whether they should submit a plan to the NEA anyway, then decided against it.

Chairwoman Linda Browning Weis, another Brownback appointee, said the commission will revive a plan to issue "support the arts" license plates to raise funds.

"Commissioners remain united and focused on how to expand and support the arts in Kansas by maintaining and creating relationships with other arts agencies and developing an innovative funding plan," Weis, a Manhattan real estate broker with a background in music and music education, said.

But Henry Schwaller IV, a holdover commission member whose term doesn't expire until 2013, said Brownback's administration had wasted money and staff time to fight the NEA over funding. Schwaller, president of a Hays real estate investment firm and a local arts council, was commission chairman until Weis' appointment in June, and he's been a vocal critic of the administration.

"We are not entitled to money unless we have some collateral," Schwaller said. "It's no different than applying for a home loan."

Brownback had proposed eliminating the commission and reduce the state's funding for the arts to a $200,000 subsidy for a private, nonprofit Kansas Arts Foundation. The group formed in February, with Weis as its chairwoman, a position she still holds.

But legislators rejected Brownback's plan and set aside tax dollars to fund the commission in the current state budget. The governor vetoed not only the money but the commission's authority to retain its small staff, leaving commissioners to handle day-to-day administrative tasks.

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