TOPEKA — State lawmakers criticized the newly-formed Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission on Wednesday for having not spent roughly $450,000 to help local arts groups.
Peter Jasso, director of the commission, told a panel of lawmakers that so far only $30,000 of the commission’s $700,000 has been spent. It paid for administrative costs and a membership with the National Association of State Arts Agencies.
He said the state is holding back on distributing the rest of the money to local arts groups until it completes a strategic plan by the end of the year.
But lawmakers questioned whether that leaves small arts groups that have depended on tiny grants for years in the lurch in the meantime.
“We didn’t expect it to just sit there while you get your ducks in a row, we expect it to go out to arts agencies,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka.
Rep. Bill Feuerborn, D-Garnett, said the arts commission is tasked, in part, with creating jobs and he questioned how sitting on the money fulfills that goal.
Jasso, who started his job July 1, said the state needs a strategic plan and guidelines before sending money out.
It wasn’t immediately clear what will happen with the remaining money when the state enters its next fiscal year.
Meanwhile, the commission recently submitted a preliminary application to get grant money from the National Endowment for the Arts, a grant the state routinely received until Gov. Sam Brownback de-funded the arts agency and the NEA stopped giving Kansas money.
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said it’s the small, rural communities that are hurting the most from the loss of arts grants.
She questioned why the state hasn’t done more to promote a new program that puts more money in the arts commission when people buy specialized license plates.
So far, roughly 250 have been sold, Jasso said.