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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Proposal has funds for Arts Commission

By Brent Wistrom and Fred Mann
The Wichita Eagle

Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget plan could revive the Kansas Arts Commission, a year after he withdrew all funding from it.

Under his new proposal, the Arts Commission would move with the Film Commission into a new Creative Industries Commission within the Department of Commerce.

The newly formed commission would have $200,000 to grant to creative ventures that create jobs or have some economic impact, and to leverage federal grants. Meanwhile, the existing Arts Commission, which has no funding, would continue seeking private money and implement a program that generates money by selling special arts license plates.

Arts Commission chairwoman Linda Browning Weis of Manhattan said it’s hard to quantify how far that $200,000 could go, but she said she’s encouraged by the governor’s recommendation.

"We have faith that it’s working toward something that’s positive," she said.

She voiced even more optimism about the license plate program.

Under the plan, which she said requires no new legislation, arts groups could sell the new license plates for $100. Of that, $50 would go to the organization selling them and $50 would go to the Arts Commission, which could spend the money on community programs, such as local theaters.

The commission hopes to have 500 people committed to buying a license plate by Feb. 6.

"I see this as a very, very promising fundraising opportunity,” she said.

Sarah Carkhuff Fizell, spokeswoman for Kansas Citizens for the Arts, which advocates for public funding for the arts, said her group is pleased Brownback is open to funding the arts.

“However, $200,000 is a long way away from $2 million,” she said, referring to the total amount that arts in the state used to get before the governor dismantled the arts commission last year. That amount included money from the state general fund and matching money from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance.

“We want to make sure this money gets back out to the communities that needed it, and these jobs and educational programs that are so important to our communities are taken care of,” she said.

As for Brownback’s contingency that the commission provide an economic impact statement that convinces him its work would benefit the economy, Fizell said it depends on how he defines economic impact.

“You can’t just expect art galleries to hire new staff. The definition of economic development has to include people in the hospitality and food industries,” she said. “When people come to see art openings and concerts, they eat dinner and stay the night. That’s documented. I hope any formula they come up with includes those things.”

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