TOPEKA — Nearly two years after Gov. Sam Brownback eliminated cultural arts funding from the state of Kansas, the state is starting to provide some modest grants to groups.
This week for example, the Department of Commerce is expected to announce $58,400 in grants, such as $10,000 to renovate an old depot into a performance and living space for resident artists at the Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine.
But it’s just a trickle of what the state used to provide.
“Just trying to maintain is the new norm,” said John D’Angelo, Wichita’s director of Arts and Cultural Services.
He said the state’s absence in the arts has been felt in Wichita, as has Boeing’s departure, which eliminated some of the donations that were helping to partially offset what the state used to provide. But he said many private donors are stepping up to help.
It’s the small education programs that tend to get hit hardest, D’Angelo said.
“They’re hurting and they need more help, like most businesses,” he said.
Brownback vetoed $700,000 of cultural arts funding in 2011. That triggered the loss of about $1.2 million in grants that hinged on the state showing that it was investing in the arts, too.
He refilled the fund last year, but it took nearly a year for the newly created Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission to get rolling with grants. The commission pushed much of its money into next year’s budget to show the National Endowment for the Arts it has money to match grants, said Dan Lara, a spokesman for the Department of Commerce.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that having this money roll over is going to be a positive in terms of getting a matching grant with the NEA,” he said. And once it does, Lara said it should provide a noticeable increase in funding for qualified arts groups.
Meanwhile, an attempt to generate more money by offering $100 license plates that indicate support of the arts hasn’t yet received enough interest to create 500 orders, which is required for the state to start printing the plates.
Among the $58,400 in grants the department plans to announce this week:
• $10,000 for Burford Arts in Arkansas City, which plans to transform two ground-floor units into incubator businesses that will also be used for arts classes and exhibits.
• $5,000 for Chamber Music at the Barn in Maize, which plans to upgrade its sound systems, which are more than 12 years old.
• $4,400 for wheelchair lifts to make Fisch Haus in Wichita accessible to people who can’t climb stairs.
• $10,000 for the Hutchinson Theatre Guild, which is renovating a downtown building for a permanent theater.
• $4,000 for Image Makers in Wamego, which is hiring its first full-time photographer/videographer to break into the high-end video service market.
• $5,000 for the Kansas Alliance for the Arts in Education to bring in local and national experts in arts education to train artists and educators to integrate arts into common core curriculum, including science, math and other classes.
• $10,000 for the Culture House in Olathe, which is developing a 250-seat theater space to give students and artists a venue and give the community more event space.
The creative arts industries commission plans to meet again Friday to discuss larger grants.
Connie Bonfy, a grants and business consultant for Chamber Music at the Barn who also wrote grant applications for Fisch Haus and the Arboretum, said that many arts groups cut programs after the state quit offering grants.
Before, the state allowed the money to be spent on operations, including programs for kids, but now the money is tied to economic development, which requires organizations to show that small grants will attract tourists or otherwise bolster the economy.
“Arts are strong vehicles for economic development, but that’s not their only purpose,” Bonfy said. “Now everything is geared toward economic development.”
Music Theatre of Wichita relies mostly on ticket sales, fundraisers and corporate sponsors for its funding. It lost $8,000 in state funds from its $3 million budget when state funding went away.
But Wayne Bryan, the theater’s director, said the state’s absence has been felt, and it might even hurt some of the job-creation goals laid out by political leaders.
“One of the main measures a company will use when relocating or not relocating is the cultural opportunities available to employees,” he said. “We all understand there are (budget) concerns. But if the decision is to depict Kansas as a forward-thinking place, robust cultural opportunities are a big part of that.”
Robin Macy, the Bartlett Arboretum’s steward, said the $10,000 grant for the depot will help convert it into an indoor, climate-controlled arts center, with cooking classes, a wood shop and space for artists to live and teach.
She will have to match the grant, but she is halfway there and close on the rest, she said.
Macy said she is glad grants are being made, although she didn’t expect hers.
“I never expect to get anything for free,” she said. “My mom says, ‘Pray for a good harvest, but keep on hoeing.’”
Contributing: Fred Mann of The Eagle