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Eagle editorial: Another blow to arts

  • Published Friday, June 14, 2013, at 12 a.m.

The 2014-15 state budget awaiting Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature is another blow to culture in Kansas – and an insult to the Kansans whose voices supposedly prevailed over the governor’s one-man defunding of the arts in 2011.

After the governor killed the 45-year-old Kansas Arts Commission, first by executive order and then by vetoing its funding over the Legislature’s wishes, things were supposed to be remedied last year, or at least moving that way. The Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission was created within the Commerce Department, appropriated $700,000 and “charged with promoting, supporting, coordinating, fostering, developing and measuring the outcomes of the arts.”

But the 11-member commission and its staff have been unbelievably slow out of the gate, spending $120,000 on strategic planning and two new grant programs but awarding no grants (in one program, grants totaling $58,000 have been tentatively approved). Last month the KCAIC submitted its new state arts plan to the National Endowment for the Arts, hoping to regain eligibility for federal matching funds.

The new plan paints a picture of an agency that prizes experimentation and artistic excellence as well as innovation and entrepreneurship. And it sets some fine goals, such as increasing participation in the arts and access by underserved populations.

But the state budget passed by the Legislature early June 2 includes just $200,000 for the commission in each of the next two fiscal years, a $500,000-a-year cut from fiscal 2013. Lawmakers did allow the commission to keep and use any funds unspent when the fiscal year ends June 30.

But as commission member Henry Schwaller of Hays recently asked in the Hays Daily News: “How can the KCAIC implement this plan with an annual budget of $200,000, particularly when approximately half of that is allocated to agency staff salaries?”

And Kansas remains far from making up the ground lost in 2011; before then, the state’s own investment in the arts was sufficient to attract about $800,000 and $400,000 a year in matching grants from the NEA and the Mid-America Arts Alliance, respectively. (At least some key Kansas institutions have managed to secure NEA money on their own, including Music Theatre of Wichita, Chamber Music at the Barn and Wichita State University’s Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, for the restoration of its Joan Miro mural.)

In the waning hours of the 2013 session, the Legislature even voted to eliminate the Joint Committee on Arts and Cultural Resources, which had brought members of both chambers together to study cultural issues for more than two decades (six other joint panels also were axed).

Because those who make art always find a way, the arts will survive Kansas elected leaders’ demonstrated low regard for their value. But make no mistake: The state’s next budget reflects that low regard, not the will of Kansans who love the arts and want to see them celebrated and supported by the state.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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