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New Kansas arts commission plans to seek federal grant

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Tuesday, Sep. 25, 2012, at 12:21 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, July 8, 2013, at 6:29 a.m.

— The newly formed Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission plans to apply for National Endowment for the Arts funding in an effort to revive the flow of grant money that ended when Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration defunded the state’s arts commission last year.

The application sparked hope among some arts advocates. But Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said expected state cuts and the amount the state may have already spent on planning make it unlikely the NEA will provide much, if any, money to Kansas.

If the state fails to get NEA support, it also probably will struggle to get funding from the Mid-America Arts Alliance, which uses many of the same grant criteria as the NEA and stopped its ongoing funding for the state along with the NEA last year.

Still, Mary Kennedy, executive director of the Mid-America Arts Alliance, called the state’s move to apply for NEA money very promising.

Before Brownback defunded the arts commission, Kansas had been getting about $1.2 million in statewide arts money from the NEA and Mid-American Arts Alliance by spending about $700,000 a year on the arts.

News of the application came during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Arts and Cultural Resources, where lawmakers questioned how the creative arts commission is spending the $700,000 lawmakers appropriated earlier this year.

They got few details.

Peter Jasso, director of the commission, said money is largely being spent to get input from across the state on a new state arts plan.

The lack of details and transparency drew more scrutiny when the panel heard from representatives with the Kansas Arts Foundation, formed with Brownback’s support in the wake of the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission.

The foundation declined to give any specifics about its fundraising efforts and largely avoided questions about how it is spending its money.

“The intent of promoting arts will be continuously downplayed as long as there is such secrecy,” said Schodorf, who is chairwoman of the joint committee. “The more you say you can’t answer that, the more people are going to be trying to get that information and your intent to promote the arts will never be heard.”

Sandra Hartley, vice president of the foundation, sought to push back against the criticism while still not disclosing anything beyond what’s legally required by the IRS.

Hartley said the foundation reported raising about $105,000 last year. She largely avoided answering questions about how the foundation is spending its money and what grants it has awarded, saying instead that she wants to focus on the inroads the foundation is creating for artists through artist-in-residency programs and other efforts.

“It has taken awhile to develop the grants program and put forth how we want to do things in the future,” she said.

The sharp exchanges between the arts and culture committee and foundation leaders come as the state continues its transition from having an arts commission to having a Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission in the Department of Commerce.

Robert Swain, a foundation committee member, said the public would prefer a privately funded arts program, rather than a publicly funded one.

He said people tell him that if it’s financially viable, they prefer a private-model for arts support, largely because of sour feelings over government funding and raw feelings related to public arts funding.

The foundation has no connection to the state’s creative arts commission, which the Legislature jump-started earlier this year by giving the Department of Commerce $700,000 to distribute through the new commission.

Commerce Secretary Pat George wrote in a letter to the arts and culture committee that his department is integrating the former arts commission’s assets.

He said the new commission has met with the NEA and other groups that stopped matching funds with Kansas after it abolished its arts commission in order to restore grants.

Schodorf said that she doesn’t think the state’s chances for new grant money are good.

“I just don’t see it,” she said.

Jasso said the state is applying for NEA money, but he couldn’t provide numbers about how much the state will provide as its share of money to get matching dollars.

“We need transparency,” Schodorf said.

She asked legislative staff to provide more budget details soon.

The application to the NEA is due Oct. 1; and the NEA would likely decide in January, which would potentially provide Kansas with arts money in July 2013.

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

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